Medically reviewed by Diana Rose G. Tolentino, MD, MBA · Ear Nose and Throat · HMICare Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Sore throat is a common occurrence and a nuisance to anyone who has ever gone through it. In this article, we’ll look into what really causes sore throat, as well as what we can do to treat it, and prevent it from ever happening in the first place.
Sore throat is a condition that involves discomfort in the throat. It could come in the form of irritation, scratchiness, or simply pain in the throat area.
Oftentimes, this discomfort gets worse when you try to speak or swallow. And this makes doing anything involving the throat generally difficult.
There are two types of sore throat and these are identified with the cause of the sore throat. These types are pharyngitis and strep throat.
Pharyngitis is a viral infection or a sore throat brought about by a virus. This could come with the cold or the flu and often resolves itself on its own.
The strep throat, however, is a less-common type of sore throat that is caused by a bacterial infection. In particular, this is a streptococcal infection and will require antibiotics that should only be taken under the supervision of a medical expert.
Later in this article, we’ll look into the different and more specific causes of sore throat that fall under these categories as well as sore throat treatment.
Causes of sore throat can either be viral, bacterial, or neither. To better organize this article, we’ve classified the different causes of sore throat.
The first category of causes is viral. Under this category are causes that are related to viruses that would cause sore throat. These include chickenpox, common cold, croup, (a barking cough illness common in children), the flu, measles, and mononucleosis.
The second category is bacterial. There are a number of types of bacteria that could cause a sore throat, but the most common is a Group A streptococcus bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes which is behind the second type of sore throat called strep throat.
Some causes are neither viral nor bacterial and these fall under the third category. Allergies to dust, molds, pet dander, and pollen can cause a sore throat, and this could be further complicated by a postnasal drip. Other irritants that aren’t necessarily allergens could also cause sore throat. These include air pollution, smoke, chemicals, and substances like spices and alcohol that could irritate the throat.
Dryness or a lack of humidity within the throat due to having dry air indoors or habitually breathing through one’s mouth could also cause a sore throat. Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD which causes reflux and heartburn could also irritate the throat by exposing it to stomach acids though this digestive system disorder.
Muscle strain due to talking for long periods, or yelling loudly could also cause sore throat. Having anything with flu-like symptoms such as sinusitis or infections like HIV could cause sore throat as well.
Symptoms of sore throat are straightforward because it comes with pain or a scratchy, unpleasant sensation in the throat that gets worse when you talk or swallow. However, some symptoms may vary depending on the cause of sore throat.
Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing and swollen lymph nodes or glands found in your neck or jaw. Your tonsils could also appear red and swollen or appear with white patches and pus. Your voice could sound anywhere from scratchy to squeaky to soft. Infections would also manifest common symptoms like body aches and headaches, coughing and sneezing, fevers, nausea, and vomiting.
Although sore throats are common, there are risk factors that play into how susceptible someone is to getting a sore throat.
The first risk factor is age. Kids or teens aged three to 15 are most likely to have strep throat. This is especially true if they have seasonal allergies or ongoing allergic reactions to dander, dust, and mold. Exposure to irritants from smoking or secondhand exposure, air particles from pollution, and chemicals from cleaning products could also make someone more susceptible to sore throat.
Chronic or frequent sinus infections cause the nasal drainage to form and this could irritate the throat. This is made even worse if someone lives or works in close quarters with others. In such cases, it is easier for viruses and bacteria to spread. That said, someone with weak immunity or someone who is immunodeficient due to low resistance, diabetes, treatments involving steroids or radiation, as well as poor diet and high stress levels would be more likely to get a sore throat than someone who is healthy.
That said, sore throats don’t have to be common considering it’s fairly simple to avoid it. Avoiding a sore throat involves avoiding the germs that cause it, and that’s as simple as maintaining good hygiene. Washing your hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and avoiding sharing eating utensils are effective methods of prevention.
Coughing or sneezing into tissues or into your elbow is absolutely necessary, and it’s always a good idea to avoid touching doorknobs in public, others’ phones, and drinking fountains. Finally, minimize contact with sick people and regularly clean your surroundings.
Sore throat treatment usually isn’t necessary when it comes to viral infections. Commonly, symptoms will resolve themselves in under a week.
Medications can be taken to help with the fever and the pain. These include acetaminophen, ibuprofen or other mild pain relievers available over the counter.
In case you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics as a sore throat treatment. Make sure to take a full course of antibiotics under the supervision and advice of a medical professional.
Sore throats are common but they don’t have to be if we know what the risks are, what causes sore throat, and how to avoid it.
If bacterial strep sore throat is left untreated, it can lead to complications such as heart disease (rheumatic heart disease) and kidney disease (post streptococcal glomerulonephritis PSGN). That’s why it is best to consult your doctor should a sore throat persist.
Learn more about Throat Conditions here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.