• Sore Throat

    (Pharyngitis; Tonsillopharyngitis; Throat Infection)


    A sore throat is the general name for 2 common conditions:
    • Pharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx (the back of the throat, including the back of the tongue)
    • Tonsillopharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx and the tonsils (soft tissue that makes up part of the throat's immune defenses)
    Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Many things can cause a sore throat, such as:
    • Infection with a virus, such as the viruses that cause the flu, herpangina, and the common cold
    • Infection with bacteria, such as those that cause strep throat
    • Infectious mononucleosis
    • Mucus from your sinuses that drains into your throat
    • Smoking
    • Breathing polluted air
    • Drinking alcoholic beverages
    • Hay fever or other allergies
    • Acid reflux from the stomach
    • Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils
    • Certain immune or inflammatory disorders

    Risk Factors

    Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of a sore throat include:
    • Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat or nose
    • Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
    • Having hay fever or other allergies
    • Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as HIV infection or cancer


    Along with the sore throat, you may have other symptoms, such as:
    • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
    • Runny nose or stuffy nose
    • Fever
    • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
    • Hoarse voice
    • Red or irritated-looking throat
    • Swollen tonsils
    • White patches on or near your tonsils
    • Cough
    • Difficulty breathing

    When Should I Call My Doctor?

    Call your doctor if you:
    • Experience a worsening of your sore throat or the symptom lasts longer than you or your doctor expect
    • Have difficulty swallowing or breathing
    • Have developed other symptoms, such as:
      • White patches on tonsils (may be a sign of strep throat)
      • Enlarged lymph nodes on your neck
      • Rash
      • Fever
      • Earache
      • Lightheadedness
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Muscle or joint aches
      • Fatigue
      • Blood in saliva
    The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests calling your child's doctor if your child has a sore throat that goes on for more than 1 day (no matter what other symptoms are present).
    If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


    Your doctor will do a physical exam. This involves looking closely at your mouth, throat, nose, ears, and the lymph nodes in your neck.
      This physical exam may include:
      • Using a small instrument to look inside the nose, ears, and mouth
      • Gently touching the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck to check for swelling
      • Taking your temperature
      The doctor will ask questions about:
      • Your family and medical history
      • Recent exposure to someone with strep throat or any other infection of the throat, nose, or ears
      Other tests include:
      • Rapid strep test or throat culture—using a cotton swab to touch the back of the throat to check for strep throat
      • Blood tests—to identify some conditions that may be causing the sore throat
      • Mono spot test—if mononucleosis is suspected


    Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may include:


      Pain relievers or fever reducers
      • Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
    • Antibiotics for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection
    • Throat lozenges
    • Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
    • Numbing throat spray for pain control in older children and adults, although the relief is very short-lived
    • Corticosteroids if there is trouble breathing

    Home Care

    Self-care steps you can do at home:
    • Get plenty of rest
    • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Try warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquids
    • Gargle with warm saline several times a day
    • Avoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold air
    • Avoid drinking alcohol


    To help reduce your chance of a sore throat:
    • Wash your hands frequently. Do this especially after blowing your nose or after caring for a child with a sore throat.
    • If someone in your home has a sore throat, keep their eating utensils and drinking glasses separate from those of other family members. Wash these objects in hot, soapy water.
    • If a toddler with a sore throat has been sucking on toys, wash the toys in soap and water.
    • Immediately get rid of used tissues, and then wash your hands.
    • If you have hay fever or another respiratory allergy, see your doctor. Avoid the substance that causes your allergy.


    Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.healthychildren.org

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases http://www.niaid.nih.gov


    Canadian Society of Otolaryngology http://www.entcanada.org

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca


    Brink AJ, Cotton MF, Feldman C, et al. Guideline for the management of upper respiratory tract infections. S Afr Med J. 2004;94(6 Pt 2):475-483.

    Choby BA. Diagnosis and treatment of streptococcal pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(5):383-390.

    Pharyngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 25, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.

    Sore throat. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/sore-throat.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.

    Sore throat. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/sore-throat-leaflet. Accessed November 20, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2014

    The difference between a sore throat, strep and tonsillitis. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/The-Difference-Between-a-Sore-Throat-Strep-and-Tonsillitis.aspx. Updated May 28, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.

    Throat problems. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/throat-problems.html. Accessed September 29, 2014.

    Vincent MT, Celestin N, Hussain AN. Pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(6):1465-1470.

    11/10/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Hayward G, Thompson M, Heneghan C, Perera R, Del Mar C, Glasziou P. Corticosteroids for pain relief in sore throat: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2009;339.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
    • Review Date: 08/2015
    • Update Date: 09/30/2014
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