What Is a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that often worsens when you swallow. A sore throat is the primary symptom of pharyngitis — inflammation of the throat (pharynx). But the terms “sore throat” and “pharyngitis” are often used interchangeably. Fortunately, most sore throats are caused by a minor illness and go away without medical treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sore Throat?

Symptoms of a sore throat may vary depending on the cause. Signs and symptoms may include: Pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat, pain that worsens with swallowing or talking, dry throat, difficulty swallowing, sore or swollen glands in your neck or jaw, red and swollen tonsils, white patches or pus on your tonsils, and a hoarse voice.

Common infections causing a sore throat may result in other signs and symptoms, as well. They may include: Fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sneezing, headaches, body aches, nausea or vomiting.

What Causes a Sore Throat?

  • Many sore throats are caused by a viral illness, such as: the common cold, mumps, influenza (flu), mononucleosis, measles, croup, chicken pox, and herpangina.
  • Some are caused by bacterial infections such as strep throat, tonsillitis, whooping cough, diphtheria, and adenoiditis.
  • Other causes of sore throat include: allergies, dry air, irritants scuh as tobacco smoke, throat muscle strain, HIV infection, tumors, and GERD


Treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. You may be able to use home treatment to obtain relief, especially if it is caused by a viral illness. If it is caused by a bacterial infection such as strep throat, then additional treatment with antibiotics are needed to prevent complications. Other less common causes of sore throat may require more complex treatment.

When to see a doctor

Take your child to a doctor if your child’s sore throat doesn’t go away with the first drink in the morning, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Get immediate care if your child has severe signs such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unusual drooling, which may indicate an inability to swallow

If you’re an adult, see your doctor if you have a sore throat and any of the following associated problems occur, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology:

  • A sore throat that is severe or lasts longer than a week
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Joint pain
  • Earache
  • Rash
  • Fever higher than 101 F (38.3 C)
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Frequently recurring sore throats
  • A lump in your neck
  • Hoarseness lasting more than two weeks