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Sore Throat- Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Aug 09, 2022 and last reviewed on Sep 16, 2023   -  5 min read


Sore throat is a very common condition of having a red, swollen throat accompanied by pain in swallowing. It is also called “pharyngitis” in medical terms.

Sore Throat- Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Sore throat is the most common infection seen due to inflammation of the throat and tissues surrounding it. It can be due to viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. Most sore throats recover without any treatment within a few days, but some of them cause severe discomfort.

Strep Throat - A variant of sore throat caused by bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (Group A Streptococcus) results in swelling in the throat and tonsils, which needs medicinal treatment to prevent further complications.

What Are the Causes of a Sore Throat?

  • Bacterial infection (strep throat- caused by Streptococcus pyogenes).

  • Viral infections like coronavirus infection, flu, and the common cold.

  • Allergies from dust and pollen.

  • Smoking.

  • Fungal infections (mostly caused by Candida Albicans).

  • Overuse of the throat like yelling or screaming.

  • Cancerous or non-cancerous tumors of the throat cause difficulty in swallowing.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sore Throat?

What Are the Risk Factors for the Sore Throat?

  • Smoking: Smoking causes continuous irritation and inflammation of the throat and increases the risk of throat cancer.

  • Age: Children between the age of four to 14 years are at increased risk of bacterial infections and are most frequently affected by strep throat.

  • Sinus Infections: Chronic sinus infections can involve the throat due to drainage of mucous from the nose to the throat leading to a sore throat.

  • Contact With a Person With Viral Infections: Working or sitting in closed spaces with the infected person increases the risk of getting an infection as viral cold or flu tends to spread quickly. So it is advisable to take adequate preventive measures to avoid the infection from getting spread.

How to Diagnose a Sore Throat?

Various techniques for making an appropriate diagnosis are:

  • History and Clinical Examination: Proper history from the person if infected previously from any disease or past surgical history needs to be kept in mind. Along with the history, clinical signs and symptoms of viral/bacterial infections should be noted to diagnose the underlying cause.

  • Sputum Test: Sputum is collected from coughs in case of severe infections to identify the causative bacteria.

  • Strep Test: A strep test/culture is done to identify the causative organism that is group A streptococci bacteria. A cotton swab is used to collect the discharge from the oral cavity and is sent for the culture test. A nasopharyngeal swab is collected if coronavirus symptoms are suspected.

How Can We Treat Sore Throats?

Management at Home: There are various methods of managing the sore throat infection in the initial stages:

  • Consuming Warm Fluids: The intake of warm water and fluids helps to soothe the throat and relieve the discomfort.

  • Saltwater Gargle: Use a half tablespoon of salt and mix it with a glass of water. Use this mixture to gargle three-four times daily until the swelling of the throat subsides.

  • Hot Water Steam: Taking hot water steam in case of severe cold/stuffy nose helps to drain the mucus and soothes the throat as well by clearing the sinus blockage.

  • Herbal Tea: A herbal tea containing ginger, honey, turmeric, and tulsi helps to reduce the scratchy throat, reduces the swelling of the throat, and gives relief to a sore throat.

  • Lozenges: Sucking on lozenges gives relief to a sore throat. It should be avoided in children less than two years of age.

  • Over-The-Counter-Antihistamines: Allergy-induced sore throat can be minimized using the medicinal treatment for allergies using Antihistamine drugs.

  • Over-The-Counter-Pain Medications: In case of severe throat pain, medications like Ibuprofen and Naproxen can be taken to get relief of throat ache. Paracetamol is used in the case of children below six years old.

  • Antibiotics: Over-the-counter antibiotics can be started for sore throat due to bacterial infections. These antibiotics do not act in a person having a sore throat due to viral infections.

If the sore throat infection persists even after the medicinal therapy is taken for a week and if the symptoms aggravate further like difficulty in swallowing, breathing difficulties, and swelling in the neck, visit the doctor for further management.

How Can We Prevent Sore Throat?

  • Proper Hand Washing: Washing hands frequently when necessary, especially after coming in contact with infected persons or after shaking hands with another person.

  • Avoid Smoking: Try to quit smoking to avoid irritating the throat mucosa.

  • Avoid Contact: Avoid sitting close to a person who is sick and has severe infections.

  • Avoid Sharing: Do not share your belongings and utensils with anyone as it can spread the infection further.

  • Visit the Doctor: If the infection does not resolve after more than ten days, visit the doctor and get it checked.

Sometimes the long-standing sore throat can turn into severe complications like:

  • Reduced mouth opening.

  • Difficulty in swallowing.

  • Earache.

  • Swelling in the neck.

  • Difficulty in breathing.

  • A tonsillar abscess (pus deposition within tonsillar tissues).

  • Sinusitis.

  • Pain in the joints.

  • Presence of blood in saliva.

  • Facial swelling.

  • Rash (small red spots seen on the floor of the mouth).

  • High fever (more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit)


The sore throat has become the most common symptom to worry about because of increasing coronavirus infection and its variants currently. A sore throat can be due to viral or bacterial infections. Sore throat due to viral infection is one of the symptoms of COVID -19 and its newer variants. So any symptoms of the sore throat accompanied by breathing difficulties, high fever, loss of taste, swelling or lump in the neck, and loss of smell sensation observed, should be reported to the doctor urgently to run the needful test, diagnose the appropriate cause and treat the infection accordingly.

Last reviewed at:
16 Sep 2023  -  5 min read




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