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Sore Throat Checker

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Your Sore Throat May Also be Known as:
Back of throat hurts
Burning throat
Cold symptoms
Hard to swallow
Irritated throat
Mild cold symptoms
Pain in throat
Painful swallowing
Raw throat
Scratchy throat

Sore Throat Symptoms

Your throat is itchy, scratchy and painful. You wish you didn't have to swallow. It feels as if someone is scraping your throat with coarse sandpaper. Maybe you're coughing. Maybe you're not. Either way, sore throat equals misery.

Misery, because in addition to sore throat symptoms, you might also have:

  • fever
  • hoarseness
  • loss of your voice
  • a reddened throat
  • pus on your tonsils
  • ther cold and flu symptoms
  • difficulty eating and drinking
  • white patches on the back of your throat

It does not matter that it is not likely to last more than a few days – it will feel like forever. Your sore throat symptoms might be due to an infection, acid reflux, or something else – it doesn't matter – you just want relief. To understand what might bring you relief, you'll need to know what is causing the sore throat. Let's see what the culprit might be...

Sore Throat Causes Overview

Viral Infections:

  • The common cold and the flu are both viral infections, and yes, they can both make your throat sore. Antibiotics cannot cure viral infections. You'll have to wait it out (unless you have the flu and early enough in the course, drugs can shorten the severity and duration of flu symptoms.

Bacterial infections:

  • The most common bacterial offender is Group A Streptococcus (aka "strep throat"). Strep throat can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Strep throat, if untreated, can cause complications such as rheumatic fever, which can then lead to rheumatic heart disease (which can damage heart valves). Strep throat can also cause scarlet fever.

GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease:

  • Repeated exposure to regurgitated acids of reflux can irritate the tissue lining your throat. On rare occasions, this might be treated with antibiotics.

Other conditions that can cause a sore throat include:

  • smoking
  • seasonal and environmental allergies
  • dry air, especially in the winter
  • recent trauma due to surgery, a choking incident or accidentally swallowing something like a bone

Top 10 Sore Throat Causes

  1. 1.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold is treated symptomatically. Since this is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective. You can safely treat the symptoms of this condition with over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, antihistamines & cough medicines.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Viral Throat Infection

    Viral pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, the part of the throat between the nasal cavity and mouth, which causes throat pain.

    Antibiotics are not useful for viral infections. You can gargle with salt water and use over the counter pain medication like Tylenol to treat your painful or sore throat.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, occur when the tubes that carry sound become clogged with debris like mucus.

    Your should go to your primary care doctor in the next day for an ear examination. It is likely your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, sore throat, fever, new headache, mucous dripping in the back of the throat
    Symptoms that always occur with middle ear infection:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with middle ear infection:
    vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, facial numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.New - Onset Seasonal Allergies

    Allergic rhinitis, is an overreaction by the immune system to allergens in the air. While pollen often causes allergies, other culprits include dust, animal dander, and mold.

    Despite being quite bothersome, allergies are a benign condition that can be treated at home. Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. If possible, avoid the triggering allergen. Over-the-counter antihistamines like loratidine (Claritin), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be helpful.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, congestion, cough with dry or watery sputum, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, fatigue
    Symptoms that never occur with new-onset seasonal allergies:
    fever, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Strep Throat Needing Antibiotics

    Strep throat is a bacterial throat infection that can make your throat feel sore and scratchy. Only a small portion of sore throats are the result of strep throat.

    You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours, where a diagnosis can be made via a "rapid antigen test" (it's a throat swab).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, fatigue, nausea, sore throat, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with strep throat needing antibiotics:
    fever, pain with swallowing, sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with strep throat needing antibiotics:
    general weakness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Sore Throat Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having sore throat.

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  6. 6.Strep Throat Requiring Throat Swab

    Strep throat is a bacterial throat infection that can make the throat feel sore and scratchy. Only a small portion of sore throats are the result of strep throat. And, if you do not show enough signs of a true strep throat, testing may be needed before treatment is begun.

    You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours, where a diagnosis can be made via a "rapid antigen test" (it's a throat swab). Treatment with simple antibiotics would be given only if the test is positive. It is important to get treatment, however, because of the possibility of getting a disease called "rheumatic fever" after the strep throat infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, sore throat, fever, rash
    Symptoms that always occur with strep throat requiring throat swab:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with strep throat requiring throat swab:
    general weakness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Mononucleosis Infection

    EBV Mononucleosis is a clinical syndrome characterized by fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.

    You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. Diagnosis is confirmed by looking for antibodies against EBV. Treatment involves supportive care (hydration, antipyretics, and analgesics, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen). Aspirin should not be given to children because of the possibility of Reye syndrome. It is also recommended that you do not do any strenuous physical activity and contact sports in the initial 3 to 4 weeks of illness due to the potential for splenic rupture.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal pain (stomach ache), cough
    Symptoms that never occur with mononucleosis infection:
    rectal bleeding
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by resting, drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to alleviate fever and discomfort. If the condition lasts longer than a few weeks, or if your symptoms are worsening, you may want to see a doctor who may prescribe an inhaler or pursue other treatment options.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    You should visit your primary care physician if you get heartburn regularly. The doctor may be able to prescribe medications such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to reduce the acidity of the stomach. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food may help reduce heartburn as well.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, cough with dry or watery sputum, pain below the ribs, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when sick collect excess mucus and can become infected.

    You should visit a physician or urgent care facility in the next day or two. It’s likely your sinus infection is caused by a bacterial infection, which requires treatment with antibiotics. In the mean time, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be taken to help with pain & fever.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, muscle aches, sore throat
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Sore Throat Treatments and Relief

Seek medical care if you have a sore throat and:

Beyond using an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection or waiting for a virus to pass, there is relief. It will not be perfect, and it will not last for too long, but it will help to get you through.

Relief measures for sore throat symptoms include:

  • gargling with salt water
  • drinking slippery elm tea or eating slippery elm lozenges (FYI – too much slippery elm can cause diarrhea)
  • sucking on throat lozenges that have a mild anesthetic, such as Cepacol lozenges
  • humidifying the air
  • staying indoors days when the pollution index is high; to cool off while inside, use the air conditioner instead of opening the windows (the air conditioner will filter some of the pollution out of the air)
  • drink lemon tea with honey
  • take pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • suck on ice cubes

Remember, in the case of a sore throat, laughter might not be the best medicine.

FAQs About Sore Throat

Here are some frequently asked questions about sore throat.

How do you know if you have Strep Throat?

Strep throat can be tested using a throat swab. Strep throat or streptococcal pharyngitis is often accompanied by red eyes, a persistent cough, fever, inflamed mucous membranes in the nose, and nausea. You may also find white pus along the tonsils on either side of the throat.

What causes scratchy throat?

A "scratchy throat" is caused by inflammation of the throat. Specifically, the tonsils within the throat. The tonsils are masses of lymphoid tissue (similar to lymph nodes) for white blood cells (immune cells) in the body. When you become ill, your immune system is activated. The lymph nodes of the immune system swell as white blood cells from all over the body converge to fight a local infection. In the case of a scratchy throat, an upper respiratory tract infection is present and may cause pain or tightness because of the swelling of tonsils and surrounding tissue.

What does a sore throat look like?

A sore throat may look different depending on the cause, but most commonly, it is accompanied by an angry, red throat and tonsils on either side of the throat as well as swelling on either side or both sides. There are multiple patterns of appearance associated with a sore throat. For example, some illnesses cause a white, chunk pus-like material along either side of the throat, others cause "cobblestoning" or a series of red bumps along the back of the throat — like brick cobblestones. There is no single appearance of a sore throat.

What causes pus pockets in the throat?

Pus is caused by your body fighting an infection, and when you have a sore throat caused by an infection, pus pockets can collect in the throat. Pus pockets on either side of the throat can be a sign of tonsillitis, an infection of the tonsils. They are present particularly in infections of streptococcal bacteria, and are a sign of bacterial infection, as opposed to viral infections like the flu and the common cold.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is a swelling of the tonsils usually caused by a bacterial infection. It can involve a buildup of pus on one or both tonsils on either side of the throat. The tonsils are essentially branching "police stations" in the body in which white blood cells or "cops" of the body congregate. They may become swollen during an infection and may even become infected themselves. When they become infected with a bacteria, this is called tonsillitis. Pus is often present because pus is a collection of dead white blood cells and dead bacterial pathogens.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sore Throat

  • Q.How has the intensity of your sore throat changed over time?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our sore throat symptom checker.

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Sore Throat Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced sore throat have also experienced:

    • 10% Cough
    • 6% Headache
    • 6% Congestion
  • People who have experienced sore throat had symptoms persist for:

    • 56% Less Than a Week
    • 18% Less Than a Day
    • 11% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced sore throat were most often matched with:

    • 32% Common Cold
    • 20% Viral Throat Infection
    • 2% Middle Ear Infection
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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Sore Throat Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having sore throat.

Take a quiz