Sore Throat


Soothing advice that's easy to swallow

Did you wake up this morning with a cold? A slight cough? Maybe a fever? When you tried to swallow, did your throat hurt? When you looked in the mirror, was the back of your throat red and inflamed? Did you see greenish or yellowish phlegm? If so, you've got the classic symptoms of a sore throat.

How Common Is Sore Throat?

Virtually everyone — from infants to seniors — is susceptible to a sore throat at one time or another.

Conventional Treatment

Goals of Treatment

It's estimated that sore throats annually send 40 million Americans to their doctors. For most people, the goal of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. Treatment will depend on a sore throat's underlying cause. For mild cases, or for a sore throat caused by a viral infection, drugs that relieve symptoms may be enough. For bacterial infections, antibiotics may be recommended.

Treatment Options

Fortunately, most of us can get quick relief for the pain of a sore throat through a variety of home remedies, over-the-counter medicines, and prescription drugs. These include gargling with salt and warm water, drinking more fluids, and taking aspirin to relieve pain.

Other options include an over-the-counter throat spray with phenol as the active ingredient (consult your health care practitioner before administering it to your kids), and taking over-the-counter drugs to lower your temperature or reduce swelling aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen).

If you have a fever but no other associated symptoms (such as runny nose), you may have a bacterial infection. If so, an antibiotic will probably be prescribed by your doctor for seven to 10 days. Even if the soreness dissipates within a few days, you should continue your medication until you take all the pills. This can help prevent a reoccurrence. If you have difficulty swallowing, make sure to see a doctor.

Drugs most commonly prescribed


On-Label Efficacy


On-Label Efficacy


On-Label Efficacy


On-Label Efficacy


On-Label Efficacy

Special Diets

The following fluids may help to soothe a sore or irritated throat:

  • Herbal teas
  • Fruit juices
  • Clear soups or broths

Considerations for Children

Consult a physician before giving aspirin to your child. It can cause Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition for children. You may safely give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).

Self care & Prevention

Preventing Sore Throats

No matter what preventive measures you take, it is unlikely that you can prevent sore throats altogether. However, there are still steps you can take to minimize the frequency or severity of sore throats. If you have frequent bouts of tonsillitis, your health care provider may suggest you have your tonsils removed.

Self-Care Measures

  • Don't smoke — it's a major throat and lung irritant.
  • Avoid other respiratory irritants, including dust, chemical fumes, and any fine particulates.
  • Suck on throat lozenges or hard candies, which have a soothing effect.
  • Drink plenty of hot liquids — they also soothe a sore throat.
  • Gargle with warm water. Some people prefer warm salt water (one-quarter teaspoon per four ounces of water).
  • Vitamin C and echinacea may also be helpful.

Self-Care Measures

You may want to see a physician if any of the following symptoms accompany your sore throat:

  • A fever of 101°F or greater for three or more days
  • Blood in your phlegm
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Inflamed tonsils
  • Extremely painful swallowing or difficulty swallowing
  • Labored breathing
  • Skin rash
Sore Throat

Last updated 24 May 2012


  • Pharyngitis


Possible Underlying Causes

What causes the soreness in a sore throat? Most sore throats are caused by viral infections such as colds and flus, with postnasal drip that can irritate your throat. Pneumonia or mononucleosis can also cause inflammation. Sometimes the soreness results from a dry throat brought on by breathing through your mouth instead of your nose.

If you have a severe sore throat for more than four days, it could be a bacterial infection such as strep throat or tonsillitis. If so, a visit to your doctor may be necessary. Left unchecked, these bacterial infections can lead to kidney problems and even rheumatic fever, which can cause heart inflammation or arthritis.

Other causes of a sore throat include cigarette smoking, shouting, seasonal allergies, oral-genital sexually transmitted diseases, and such infectious diseases as chickenpox, mumps, and diphtheria.

Triggers of Sore Throat

  • A cold or flu
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen neck (lymph) glands
  • Swollen tonsils and/or a rash
  • Smoking

Diagnosing the Underlying Cause

While a sore throat is common and usually nothing to worry about, in rare instances it may be a symptom of an underlying condition, disease or disorder. Some of these disorders have certain characteristic symptoms in addition to a fever of 101°F and higher, extremely painful swallowing, and/or blood in your phlegm.

The following conditions may include sore throat among their symptoms, but a sore throat should not lead you to conclude that you have a more serious disorder. You should not attempt to diagnose yourself with a medical condition, even if your symptoms match those characteristics of a certain disorder. If your symptoms concern you, the best thing to do is to seek medical advice. In order to understand your symptoms and reach a diagnosis, your health care provider will consider your medical history, your symptoms, and the results of a physical examination and laboratory tests.

  • Viral infections such as a common cold, flu, or herpes
  • Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils)
  • Laryngitis (inflammation of the voice box)
  • Vocal cord polyps, nodules, or ulcers
  • Mumps (an infectious viral disease)
  • Viral pneumonia
  • Mononucleosis (an infectious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus)
  • Cancer of the tonsils or voice box
  • Strep throat (a bacterial infection)
  • Gonorrhea (from oral sex) or syphilis
  • Fungi, such as candida

Diagnostic Procedures

In order to diagnose the underlying cause of your sore throat, your physician will ask you about other symptoms you might have. He or she will perform a physical exam, feel for swollen glands and visually examine the back of the throat and vocal cords. He or she might swab a sample from your throat and have it analyzed for any infectious organisms.