Sore Throat
(Pharyngitis)

Sore Throat Summary
Most sore throats are caused by viruses or mechanical causes (such as mouth breathing) and can be treated successfully at home. However, a person should be seen by a health care professional if they have a sore throat that has a rapid onset, and is associated with a fever or tenderness of the front of the neck; a sore throat that causes the person to have difficulty swallowing (not just pain swallowing) or breathing; or if a sore throat lasts for more than a week.
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Sore throat facts

  • Most sore throats are caused by viruses or mechanical causes (such as mouth breathing) and can be treated successfully at home.
  • Sore throat symptoms include pain, burning or scratching sensations at the back of the throat, pain when swallowing, and tenderness in the neck. Sore throat symptoms may be accompanied by coughing, sneezing, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Home remedies for sore throat include saltwater gargles, sprays, lozenges and humidifiers. Do not give lozenges to young children as they are a choking hazard.
  • Any sore throat that has a rapid onset and is associated with a fever or tenderness of the front of the neck may be serious and should be seen by a doctor.
  • Any sore throat that causes a person to have difficulty swallowing (not just pain with swallowing) or breathing should be seen by a health care professional.
  • Seek medical care immediately for a sore throat if the person is unable to take his or her medications, has palpitations, or are lightheaded, or the tongue or lips swell up.
  • Any sore throat that lasts for more than a week should be evaluated by a health care professional.
  • If you are pregnant and your sore throat symptoms are severe or do not resolve in three days, seek medical attention.

What causes a sore throat?

A sore throat can have many causes including:

  • Common viruses, including the viruses that cause mononucleosis (mono) and the flu. Some viruses can also produce blisters in the mouth and throat ("aphthous stomatitis").
  • Infection of the tonsils or adenoids.
  • Breathing through the mouth or smoking can produce throat dryness and soreness.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) while lying down or sleeping.
  • Sinus drainage (post nasal drip) from allergic or chronic sinusitis.
  • Bacterial infections. The two most common bacteria to cause a sore throat are Streptococcus (which causes strep throat) and Arcanobacterium haemolyticum. Arcanobacterium causes sore throats mainly in young adults and is sometimes associated with a fine red rash.
  • Sore throat appearing after treatment with antibiotics, chemotherapy, or other immune-compromising medications may be due to the yeast Candida, commonly known as "thrush."
  • A sore throat lasting for more than two weeks can be a sign of a serious illness, such as throat cancer or AIDS.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/16/2014

Patient Comments

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Sore Throat - Length Symptoms Lasted Question: How long did the symptoms of your sore throat (pharyngitis) last? Was there anything in particular that helped with pain/symptom relief?
Sore Throat - Treatments Question: What treatments or home remedies have been effective for a sore throat?
Sore Throat - Home Remedies Question: Please share home remedies for treating a sore throat and related symptoms.
Sore Throat - Experience During Pregnancy Question: How did you treat a sore throat during pregnancy?

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