Sore Throat - Symptoms | Causes | Home Remedies | Diagnoses | Treatments
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Sore Throat

Written by 
Dr. Sneha Kannan
 and medically  reviewed by Dr. Nilotpal Dutta

Education: MBBS, MS ENT DLO

Professional Bio: Dr. Nilotpal Dutta is a neurotologist and ENT specialist with eight years of clinical experience. He has done IAOHNS Neurotology (Chennai) and CCN (clinical neurology), in the USA. He is specialized i... 

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Published on May 30, 2019 and last reviewed on Sep 16, 2023   -  4 min read


When your throat hurts or feels itchy or scratchy, it is called a sore throat or pharyngitis. A viral infection like cold and flu is the most common cause of a sore throat.

Sore Throat

What Is a Sore Throat?

When your throat hurts or feels itchy or scratchy, it is called a sore throat or pharyngitis. You may also feel slight discomfort or burning sensation, which worsens on swallowing. A viral infection like cold and flu is the most common cause of a sore throat. As a virus causes it, it resolves on its own. The other less common type of sore throat caused by the bacteria Streptococcus is called strep throat. Strep throat needs treatment with antibiotics.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sore Throat?

Depending on the cause, the symptoms seen during a sore throat are:

  • Pain in the throat.

  • The throat feels scratchy.

  • Pain increases on swallowing.

  • Difficulty swallowing.

  • The glands in the throat are swollen.

  • Tonsils appear red and swollen.

  • The voice becomes hoarse.

What Are the Other Signs and Symptoms Seen Along with a Sore Throat?

Some of the signs and symptoms that are accompanied by a sore throat are:

What Causes a Sore Throat?

The most common causes of sore throats are:

  • Viral Infections - 90 % of all sore throats are viral in nature. The viral infections that can irritate your throat are the common cold, flu, measles, chickenpox, mononucleosis, and mumps.

  • Bacterial Infections - The most common cause of a re throso

  • at in children is strep throat, which is a bacterial infection. The other bacteria infections include tonsillitis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

  • Allergies - When the body is exposed to allergens like dust, pollen, etc., it causes an allergic reaction. This allergic reaction can manifest as watery eyes, nasal congestion, throat irritation, and postnasal drip.

  • Environmental Irritants - Cigarette and tobacco smoke, chemicals, and other environmental irritants can irritate the throat.

  • Injury - Any internal or external injury throat like cut or trauma to the neck or fishbone getting stuck in the throat can cause pain or sore throat.

  • Dry Air - When the air is dry, it can suck the moisture out of your mouth and throat, making them dry and scratchy. Use humidifiers to avoid this.

  • GERD - In gastroesophageal reflux disease, the stomach acid regurgitates into the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach. This acid burns your throat and makes some people experience chronic sore throats.

  • Overuse of Voice - Overuse can damage the vocal cords and muscles in the throat, this is the reason people have throat pain after yelling, talking loudly, or singing for a long time.

  • Tumor - Rarely, it can also be caused due to cancer of the larynx, pharynx, or tongue.

What Are the Home Remedies for a Sore Throat?

Most viral sore throats can be treated at home with the help of some natural remedies and plenty of rest, which gives the body time to heal itself. Some home remedies are:

  • Keep drinking water and keep yourself hydrated.

  • Gargle with warm salt water, 3 to 4 times a day. Mix ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water.

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.

  • Avoid talking a lot as it might strain your throat.

  • To soothe your throat, drink tea and honey, clear soup, and herbal teas.

  • Sometimes, eating ice cream might help reduce throat irritation.

When to Visit a Doctor for a Sore Throat?

Usually, sore throats that result from a viral infection gets better in a week with home remedies. But, in the following conditions, get immediate medical attention:

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Severe throat pain making it difficult for you to swallow.

  • Pain on opening the mouth.

  • Joint pains.

  • Blood in phlegm.

  • Fever more than 101℉.

  • Ear pain.

  • If you are not feeling well even after a week.

If you are suffering from the above symptoms, consult an ENT-otolaryngologist at the earliest.

How Is a Sore Throat Diagnosed?

The doctor might check the back of the throat for redness, swelling, and white spots, as they are signs of tonsillitis. To rule out strep throat, the doctor might get a throat culture and perform a rapid strep test.

How Is a Sore Throat Treated?

To provide symptomatic relief, the doctor might suggest you take Paracetamol for fever, Ibuprofen for pain, and cough syrup to treat cough. They might also suggest taking throat spray containing antiseptic and cooling agents to soothe the throat.

For strep throat, antibiotics are prescribed to prevent complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, and rheumatic fever.

And to treat GERD, antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors are used.

Generally, most people feel better in a week with rest, warm liquids, saltwater gargles, and painkillers.But if your symptoms are severe, it is best to consult an ENT specialist online.

Frequently Asked Questions


How long does a sore throat last?

The most common cause of sore throat may be a parasitic infection. It might usually last for a few days. If it is caused by a viral infection, it may last for a week. Those which are caused by bacterial infection might take longer to heal. A few home remedies can treat the sore throat effectively.


What causes a sore throat?

A sore throat can be due to any underlying disease such as cold, flu, bacterial and viral infections. Other well-known causes are overuse of your voice. This is more prevalent in speakers, teachers, and singers. Allergic reactions with smoke or chemicals, injury or any pathological condition might also be the reason.


Is sore throat contagious?

Sore throat is also known as pharyngitis. It is caused by viruses that are contagious most of the time when the symptoms are actually present. When the symptoms get cured, it means that the person is no longer contagious. However, the person may still be prone to other types of pharyngitis.


What is the difference between viral and bacterial throat infection?

In a viral infection, the tonsils may be swollen and red. It is easily treatable at home using saltwater gargle. In a bacterial infection, white spots or lesions may be seen on the tongue. The uvula may be swollen in case of bacterial infection. The bacterial infection may be seen only in a few cases and requires help from the doctor.


Why does sore throat get worsen at night?

If there is dry air in your home, there are chances your nasal passages and throat could become very dry during the night. When you wake up, you may experience a scratchy or sore throat. The indoor air can become too dry during the winter months. There are chances that when you run the heating system it might dry out more further.


Can a sore throat last for more than 3 weeks?

If a sore throat is lasting for more than longer than ten days, it is good to consult a doctor. Most of the viral infection is known to cure very soon. Sore throat is very easy to diagnose. It can be easily treated also. Severe throat pain might be a sign of throat cancer.


How to get cured of a sore throat?

- Gargle with salt water two times a day.
- Mix honey or turmeric in warm milk. Drink this combination before bed.
- Stay hydrated all the time. Lime juice will help. Buttermilk is another substitute.
- Use a humidifier.
- Take a steam shower two times a day.
- If you want instant relief, alow the steam air to enter your nostrils.
- Drinking hot tea, soup or coffee can provide temporary relief.


What are the foods to be avoided for a sore throat?

Any cold food item should be avoided. Do not consume cold drinks, juices, beverages, sweets, chocolates, cocoa products, and cold water. All these foods can cause further irritation and pain in the throat.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
16 Sep 2023  -  4 min read

Dr. Nilotpal Dutta

Dr. Nilotpal Dutta

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)


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