Read below about sore throat, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your sore throat from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Sore Throat

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced sore throat. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.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.

    Symptoms generally resolve within 3-4 days

    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
  2. 2.Common Cold

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

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    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, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.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.

    1-3 days with treatment

    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
  4. 4.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.

    With proper treatment, symptoms may be relieved within days & at most several weeks.

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

    Sore Throat Checker

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

    Sore Throat Quiz
  5. 5.Mononucleosis Infection

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

    2-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal pain (stomach ache), cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Canker Sore in the Throat

    Canker sores are small, grayish-white sores in the mouth, often on the inside of the cheeks, lips, and on the tongue, but sometimes, they can happen in the back of the throat. No one really knows why canker sores happen, but it seems to be inherited and susceptible to vitamin deficiencies and allergies.

    1 week

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, pain with swallowing, sore/ulcer in the throat, severe pain when swallowing
    Symptoms that always occur with canker sore in the throat:
    sore throat, pain with swallowing
    Symptoms that never occur with canker sore in the throat:
    fever, cough
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.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.

    2-5 days with treatment

    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 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.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have there been changes in your voice?

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

Sore Throat Quiz

Sore Throat Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced sore throat have also experienced:

    • 8% Cough
    • 5% Headache
    • 5% Congestion
  • People who have experienced sore throat had symptoms persist for:

    • 54% Less Than a Week
    • 19% Less Than a Day
    • 11% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced sore throat were most often matched with:

    • 66% Strep Throat Requiring Throat Swab
    • 16% Viral Throat Infection
    • 16% Common Cold
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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

Sore Throat Quiz