(Pharyngitis; Tonsillopharyngitis; Throat Infection)
Jennifer Lewy, MSW
A sore throat is the general name for 2 common conditions:
- Pharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the back of the throat, including the back of the tongue
- Tonsillopharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the throat behind the mouth and nose and the tonsils
Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
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Many things can cause a sore throat such as:
Viral infections such as the
mononucleosis, and the
Bacterial infections such as
- Mucus from your sinuses that drains into your throat
- Breathing polluted air
- Drinking alcoholic beverages
or other allergies
- Acid reflux
from the stomach
- Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils
- Certain immune or inflammatory disorders
Risk Factors TOP
Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of a sore throat include:
- Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat or nose
- Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
or other allergies
Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as
Along with the sore throat, you may have other symptoms such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
- Hoarse voice
- Red or irritated-looking throat
- Swollen tonsils
- White patches on or near your tonsils
- Difficulty breathing
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if you:
- Experience a worsening of your sore throat or the symptom lasts longer than you or your doctor expect
- Have difficulty swallowing or breathing
Have developed other symptoms, such as:
- White patches on tonsils (may be a sign of strep throat)
- Enlarged lymph nodes on your neck
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle or joint aches
- Blood in saliva
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests calling your child's doctor if your child has a sore throat that goes on for more than 1 day (no matter what other symptoms are present).
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Your doctor will do a physical exam. This involves looking closely at your mouth, throat, nose, ears, and the lymph nodes in your neck.
This physical exam may include:
- Using a small instrument to look inside the nose, ears, and mouth
- Gently touching the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck to check for swelling
- Taking your temperature
The doctor will ask questions about:
- Your family and medical history
- Recent exposure to someone with
or any other infection of the throat, nose, or ears
Other tests include:
- Rapid strep test or throat culture—using a cotton swab to touch the back of the throat to check for strep throat
- Blood tests—to identify other conditions that may be causing the sore throat
- Mono spot test—if mononucleosis is suspected
Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may include:
Pain relievers or fever reducers
Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
- Antibiotics for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection
- Throat lozenges
Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
Over the counter cough and cold medicine should not be given to children under 4 years old. This type of medicine can cause serious life-threatening problems in young children.
- Numbing throat spray for pain control in older children and adults, although the relief is very short-lived
- Corticosteroids to help manage discomfort or help breathing if there is trouble
Other Steps to Manage Symptoms
Self-care steps that may help you feel better include:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Try warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquids
- Gargle with warm saline several times a day
- Avoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold air
- Avoid drinking alcohol
To help reduce your chances of a sore throat:
- Wash your hands frequently. Do this especially after blowing your nose or after caring for a child with a sore throat.
- If someone in your home has a sore throat, keep their eating utensils and drinking glasses separate from those of other family members. Wash these objects in hot, soapy water.
- If a toddler with a sore throat has been sucking on toys, wash the toys in soap and water.
- Immediately get rid of used tissues, and then wash your hands.
- If you have hay fever or another respiratory allergy, create a plan to manage allergies. This should include avoiding allergens and taking medicine before exposure.
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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology
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Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 4/20/2020