(Pharyngitis; Tonsillopharyngitis; Throat Infection)
A sore throat is swelling and inflammation in the throat. Common types are:
- Pharyngitis—affects the back of the throat and tongue
- Tonsillopharyngitis—affects the throat and the tonsils
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Many things can cause a sore throat. They may be:
- Viral infections such as the flu, mononucleosis, and the common cold
- Bacterial infections such as strep throat
- Mucus that drains from the sinuses
- Drinking alcohol or smoking
- Breathing polluted air
- Seasonal or other allergies
- Acid reflux
- Pieces of food collecting in the tonsils
- Certain immune or inflammatory problems
Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Things that raise the risk are:
- Being near someone with an infection involving the throat or nose
- Being exposed to:
- Cigarette smoke
- Toxic fumes
- Industrial smoke
- Air pollution
- Having seasonal or other allergies
- Having immune system problems, such as HIV infection or cancer
Other symptoms may occur with the sore throat. They may be:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Hoarse voice, cough, or problems breathing
- Red or irritated-looking throat
- Swollen tonsils
- White patches on or near the tonsils
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. This involves looking at the mouth, throat, nose, ears, and lymph nodes in the neck.
Tests may include:
Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may be:
- Medicines to ease symptoms, such as:
- Antibiotics—for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection
- Throat lozenges
- Decongestants and antihistamines—to ease a stuffy or runny nose
- Numbing throat spray
- Corticosteroids—to ease discomfort or help breathing, if there is trouble
- Self-care such as rest and lots of fluids
To reduce the risk of a sore throat:
- Wash hands often
- Stay away from people who are sick
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology
Pharyngitis - Approach to the Patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/pharyngitis-approach-to-the-patient-25. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Sore throat. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/sore-throat. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Sore throat. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/health/sore-throat-leaflet. Accessed January 29, 2021.
The difference between a sore throat, strep and tonsillitis. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/The-Difference-Between-a-Sore-Throat-Strep-and-Tonsillitis.aspx. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Throat problems. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/symptom/throat-problems. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Vazquez MN, Sanders JE. Diagnosis and management of group A streptococcal pharyngitis and associated complications. Pediatr Emerg Med Pract. 2017;14(12):1-20
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN Last Updated: 2/23/2021