Sore Throat



Many things can cause a sore throat. They may be:

  • Viral infections such as the flu, mononucleosis, and the common cold
  • Bacterial infections such as strep throat
  • Mucus that drains from the sinuses
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking
  • Breathing polluted air
  • Seasonal or other allergies
  • Acid reflux
  • Pieces of food collecting in the tonsils
  • Certain immune or inflammatory problems

Risk Factors

Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Things that raise the risk are:

  • Being near someone with an infection involving the throat or nose
  • Being exposed to:
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Toxic fumes
    • Industrial smoke
    • Air pollution
  • Having seasonal or other allergies
  • Having immune system problems, such as HIV infection or cancer



Other symptoms may occur with the sore throat. They may be:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Hoarse voice, cough, or problems breathing
  • Red or irritated-looking throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • White patches on or near the tonsils


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam may be done. It will focus on the mouth, throat, nose, ears, and lymph nodes in the neck.

Tests may include:

  • Rapid strep test or throat culture—swabbing the throat to check for strep throat
  • Blood tests—to check for causes of the sore throat
  • Mono spot test—to check for mononucleosis



Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may be:

  • Medicines to ease symptoms, such as:
    • Antibiotics—for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection
    • Throat lozenges—to ease pain
    • Decongestants and antihistamines—to ease a stuffy or runny nose
    • Numbing throat spray
    • Corticosteroids—to ease discomfort or help breathing, if there is trouble
  • Self-care such as rest and lots of fluids


To reduce the risk of a sore throat:

  • Wash hands often
  • Stay away from people who are sick

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.