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“Why is my throat sore?” - Common causes of a sore throat

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on July 10, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Sore throats are relatively common and often subside on their own. However, there may be cause for concern if you’ve had a persistent sore throat and are wondering “Why is my throat sore all the time?”

Here, we’ll highlight symptoms related to a sore throat, some possible causes of a sore throat, home remedies, information regarding medical attention, and more—so read on.

Sore throat symptoms

Symptoms can vary depending on the cause of the sore throat. In general, however, a sore throat may be accompanied by:

  • General pain in the throat
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen neck and jaw glands
  • Inflamed tonsils
  • White spots or pus around or on the tonsils
  • A hoarse or muffled voice

Signs an infection might be causing a sore throat

If your sore throat is caused by an infection, other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting

Causes of a sore throat

Viral infections

Viral infections are frequently responsible for sore throats. These infections include the common cold, flu (or influenza), mono (or mononucleosis), measles, chickenpox, and croup. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that a sore throat is a possible symptom of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

HIV and sore throat

Infection with HIV can cause a sore throat, as well as other flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, and an "HIV rash" (“HIV” stands for human immunodeficiency virus). In people who are HIV-positive, a fungal infection known as oral thrush can also cause a prolonged sore throat.

When it isn’t treated, HIV can ultimately compromise the body’s immune system function, leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)—so consider getting tested if you are experiencing early signs of HIV. (You can test for HIV from the privacy of home with the Everlywell at-home HIV Test.)

Bacterial infections

Several bacterial infections can cause a sore throat, as well. Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes a strep throat infection, is the most common. Although a strep throat infection tends to be mild, it can result in uncomfortable symptoms.

Besides a sore throat, other strep throat symptoms include pain when swallowing; fever; red and swollen tonsils; tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth; and swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck. Some people may experience stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, or—in some cases—a rash known as scarlet fever.

Other kinds of bacterial infections can trigger inflammation of the tonsils (tonsillitis) and inflammation of the adenoids (adenoiditis)—both of which can lead to throat pain.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an infection caused by a bacterium. It spreads through contaminated droplets in the air or through close contact with an infected person. In the earliest stage of whooping cough, the infection typically begins with a sore throat. A day or two later, a mild, dry cough may develop.

Allergies

If you’re sensitive to things like mold, dust, pollen, and pet dander, you might notice a prolonged sore throat when your allergies flare up. Allergies can also lead to postnasal drip, which further irritates the throat.

Dry air and nasal congestion

Breathing in dry air can make your throat feel scratchy. Regularly breathing through your mouth—due to chronic nasal congestion, for example—can also cause a dry sore throat.

Epiglottitis

Epiglottitis is inflammation of the flap of tissue at the back of your throat. It can lead to severe pain along with difficulty swallowing and breathing.

Throat irritants

There are a variety of irritants that can lead to regular sore throats and pain, such as cigarette smoke and alcohol. Exposure to tobacco smoke, whether through smoking or second-hand smoke, can not only irritate the throat, but also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and voice box.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive system disorder. With this disorder, stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Additional symptoms might include heartburn, hoarseness, an acid taste in the mouth, a lump in the throat, and regurgitation. However, in some cases of GERD, a sore throat may be the only symptom.

Sore throat home remedies

Have a sore throat and looking for relief at home? The 5 remedies listed below might help.

Fluids

Liquids help clear out mucous membranes and can soothe throat irritation. Sip on something warm, like chicken broth or a mug of your favorite tea. If something cold sounds better, have a glass of ice water.

Gargling

Gargling salt water can help reduce swelling and irritation in your throat. You can also try baking soda, which breaks up mucus and might help with acid reflux.

Steam

Steam can loosen mucus and give much-needed moisture to a dry throat. A hot shower can also work wonders for a scratchy sore throat.

Throat lozenge

A throat lozenge will dissolve in your mouth and lubricate an irritated throat. You can also suck on ice cubes or hard sweets for the same effect.

Rest

Lie in a comfortable position with your head propped up to alleviate pressure at the back of the throat. In addition to resting your body, it’s important to rest your voice.

Tips for preventing sore throats

One of the best ways to prevent sore throats is to avoid germs. The following tips may help lower your risk of getting an infection:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, especially when you’re in public places
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils and other personal items
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow or into a tissue that can be thrown away
  • When you’re out and about, take hand sanitizer with you if soap and water won’t be easily available

When to see a healthcare provider

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, you should see a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • A severe sore throat that lasts longer than a week
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty opening or moving your jaw
  • Joint pain
  • Ear pain
  • Rash
  • Fever higher than 101° F (38.3° C)
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Recurring sore throats
  • A lump in your neck
  • Hoarseness lasting more than two weeks
  • Facial and neck swelling

Although some sore throats do not require medical attention, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider if you have severe symptoms that last longer than a week, if you have persistent sore throats often, or if you have a relatively weak immune system due to HIV, chemotherapy, or certain medications.

Seek medical attention right away if:

  • Your symptoms are severe or getting worse quickly
  • You have difficulty breathing
  • You're making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
  • You have difficulty swallowing

Conclusion

There are many possible causes for a sore throat. Some are minor infections or irritants that do not require medical attention. Others, like an HIV-related sore throat, are serious causes for concern.

If you’re unsure if you need to be concerned about your sore throat, it’s a great idea to speak with your healthcare provider. And if you’re experiencing symptoms of HIV—as well as a sore throat—consider getting tested with an at-home HIV test.


What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?


References

1. Sore throat. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

2. Symptoms of Coronavirus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

3. Strep throat. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

4. Tonsillitis. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

5. Whooping cough. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

6. Epiglottitis. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

7. GERD. Medline Plus. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

8. Sore throat – diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.

9. Dysphagia (swallowing problems). NHS Inform. URL. Accessed July 10, 2020.