A sore throat can make it difficult to eat, speak, or even breathe. This symptom may show up alongside hoarseness, swelling, fever, or earache, or it can be an isolated issue.

In most cases, the cause of a sore throat is not severe, and treatment is a matter of rest and drinking extra fluids. More serious causes of sore throats, however, will not go away on their own and may be life-threatening if not properly treated.

Allergies or Irritation

Allergic reactions to dust, pet dander, or pollen can irritate the tissues of the throat and cause soreness. Chemical pollutants, smoking, and exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to swollen lymph nodes and irritated tonsils.

The delicate muscles and tissues of the voice box can also become irritated through overuse. People sometimes get sore throats after hours of loud cheering at a sporting event or screaming at a concert.

woman near flowering trees sneezing seasonal allergies


Acid Reflux

If a sore throat happens first thing in the morning and is accompanied by heartburn, a sour taste, or bloating, it could be acid reflux. Stomach acid can creep up during the night and cause a burning sensation in the throat.

Pregnancy, stress, and some chronic digestive conditions can cause frequent reflux. People can avoid acid reflux by eating smaller, lighter meals, taking antacids, and sleeping with their upper body raised.

older man with indigestion or acid reflux



Most sore throats are caused by viruses. The common cold is a viral infection that often starts with a sore throat and a general feeling of fatigue. Most people go on to experience mild fever, coughing, stuffy nose, body aches, and sneezing, with symptoms lasting one to two weeks.

The best treatment for a cold is rest and plenty of clear fluids. Gargling salt water can also help ease throat soreness.

woman with bad cold blowing her nose



Influenza is also a viral infection, but it is caused by a different type of virus than the one that causes colds. Both illnesses cause sore throats, but the flu typically comes on more suddenly than a cold and may cause more severe symptoms.

Most people who have the flu recover within a few weeks, but some can develo dangerous complications.

sick woman with flu and sore throat


Whooping Cough

Whooping cough initially looks a lot like a cold, but it's actually caused by bacteria. People experience the typical sore throat, cough, and mild fever, but around the time most cold symptoms would start to go away, whooping cough gets progressively worse. Violent coughing fits can last for months and be severe enough to cause vomiting and exhaustion. Recovery is slow.

Anyone can get whooping cough, but vaccinated adults tend to have milder symptoms while unvaccinated children and babies are at the highest risk of serious illness.

middle aged man with a cough


Strep Throat

Strep throat is caused by the streptococcus bacteria and is associated with extremely painful sore throats. Other symptoms of strep include a high fever, white patches on the throat, and swollen lymph glands.

Usually, there's no coughing or sneezing. Antibiotics can be used to treat strep throat and keep it from spreading to other people.

woman telling doctor about her sore throat or whooping cough



If a sore throat lasts for weeks, it could be mono. Symptoms of mono include sore throat, extreme fatigue, swollen glands, fever, chills, and headache, and lingering symptoms can last for months.

There is no vaccine against the virus that causes mononucleosis and no cure. Most people recover by resting at home, taking over-the-counter pain medication, and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fluids.

doctor examining patient's throat for mononucleosis



Pneumonia is an infection of air sacs in the lungs. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or a combination of germs.

Severe coughing, throat and chest pain, fatigue, fever, shaking, and shortness of breath are common symptoms. Infections can range from mild to life-threatening, and children and adults over the age of 65 are especially vulnerable.

man with a sore throat sick at home



The epiglottis is a little flap of tissue that covers the windpipe when we swallow. Epiglottitis is a highly dangerous infection of this tissue, which causes severe sore throat, drooling, irritability, high fever, difficulty swallowing, and labored breathing.

Infections to the epiglottis are considered a medical emergency, because even mild swelling can completely block the windpipe. Anyone who suspects they have epiglottitis should go to the hospital so that medical professionals can ensure their airway is kept clear and the underlying infection is treated. Most people recover with proper treatment.

Respiratory system. Anatomy and physiology of the human body. Biology education concept. Vector Illustration



Tumors can develop on the voice box or thyroid gland, in their lymph nodes, or in the tissues of the throat.

Sore throats are far more likely to be caused by a viral infection or allergies than by cancer, but if the pain persists and is accompanied by unexplained weight loss, ear pain, an unusual lump in the neck, shortness of breath, or a feeling of something stuck in their throat, see a doctor. Catching a tumor early is the first step to successful treatment.

woman getting an ultrasound of her throat


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