Sore Throat/Throat Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Women who suffer from sore throat


Having a sore throat is one of the peskiest and most annoying feelings ever. Aside from pain, when you have a sore throat, you feel irritation and scratchiness of the throat, making it difficult to talk, eat or swallow.

A sore throat is described as the pain and irritation of the throat that becomes worse when you swallow. Also called pharyngitis, the most common cause is a viral infection such as the flu or a common cold. Since it’s a viral infection, it usually resolves on its own.

However, another type of a sore throat is caused by the bacteria called Group A Streptococcus, which requires treatment with antibiotics to lessen the possible complications.


The most common signs and symptoms of a sore throat can vary depending on if it’s viral or bacterial, which includes:

  • Pain in the throat with scratchiness
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Pain that becomes worse with talking or swallowing
  • Red and inflamed tonsils
  • Pus or white patches on the tonsils
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Swollen glands in the neck or jaw

The signs and symptoms of infection brought about by a sore throat include:

When do you need to see a doctor?

You should visit the physician if a sore throat does not go away in children with the first drink upon waking up, there is difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breath and difficulty of breathing, and unusual drooling. On the other hand, in adults, seek medical attention if you cannot swallow properly, have a hard time breathing, and have a sore throat that lasts more than a week. Also, take note if you have an ear pain, a fever higher than 38.3 C or 101 F, blood in the phlegm, frequent sore throats and a rash.


A sore throat can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria. Here are the other causes of a sore throat as it’s a symptom of:

Laryngitis – Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx or voice box. When you have this condition, it is hard to talk, you have a hoarse voice and the need to clear the throat frequently.

Flu or colds – When you have the flu or colds, your throat may become inflamed and irritated. You may also have a cough, fever, body pains and a runny nose.

Tonsillitis – ­Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils. You may have a sore throat characterized by red or swollen tonsils, fever and a hard time swallowing.

Strep throatThis is the bacterial infection of the throat wherein there are swollen glands in the neck, tonsillitis, and difficulty swallowing.

The less common causes include:

Epiglottitis – This is the swelling of the flap of tissue at the back of the throat. This can affect breathing and swallowing.

Quinsy – Quinsy is the painful accumulation of pus at the back of the throat. The pain may be severe that even talking, opening the mouth and swallowing is painful.

Viral infections – Some viral infections may cause a sore throat such as flu, colds, mononucleosis, chickenpox, measles, and croup.

Bacterial infections – Some viral infections may lead to a sore throat such as infections with Streptococcus pyogenes or group A streptococcus.

Dryness – Dry indoor air, particularly during the winter season, can make the throat feel scratchy, dry and painful. This is particularly common upon waking up in the morning. Another cause is mouth breathing when you have colds, because this may lead to a dry oral cavity and throat.

Allergies – Some allergies may cause a sore throat. Allergies to particular irritants or allergens like pollen, pet dander, dust, and mods may make the throat painful, rough and dry.

Muscle strain – Another cause of a sore throat is a muscle strain in the throat by shouting or yelling, talking for prolonged periods and talking loudly.

Irritants – Outdoor air pollution like exposure to dust, smog, chemicals and cigarette smoke may lead to a chronic sore throat.

HIV infection – Flu-like symptoms and a sore throat may appear right after someone is infected with HIV. For those with long-term HIV, they may experience persistent and recurrent sore throat infections due to suppressed immune systems.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – GERD, wherein the acids in the stomach goes back up in the esophagus may cause hoarseness, heartburn, and sore throat.

Tumors – In some cases, cancerous tumors in the larynx or voice box, neck, throat and tongue can cause a sore throat.

4Risk factors

Despite the fact that anyone can acquire a sore throat, some people are at a higher risk of having one. The risk factors of a sore throat include:

Exposure to cigarette smoke – Whether you’re smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, you are prone to having sore throats more often than others.

Age – Younger ones are more likely to have sore throats, particularly children.

Exposure to chemical irritants – Some people in the workplace are exposed to chemicals that can irritate the throat like fossil fuels.

Allergies – People with allergies may have a sore throat in reaction to pet dander, molds, dust, and pollen.

Frequent sinus infections – When you have frequent sinus infections, the drainage from the nasal area may irritate the throat. Also, the virus can infect the throat at tonsils, too.

ImmunosuppressionSome people are more likely to get sore throats than others if they have weakened immune systems. People with compromised immune systems are those with diabetes, HIV and those undergoing chemotherapy or steroid therapy, and those who have fatigue, stress, and poor diet.


A viral sore throat may go away on its own without complications. However, in a bacterial sore throat, the complications may arise from untreated or partially treated sore throat. The possible complications of a strep throat that are not treated immediately includes:

  • Otitis media or middle ear infection
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Toxic shock syndrome (widespread infection and organ failure)
  • Abscess


Many individuals with a sore throat can recover without any treatment. Also, there is no specific treatment for a sore throat that is caused by a virus. Usually, the treatment is symptomatic, which means that the accompanying discomforts are treated. Here are ways to diagnose a sore throat.

Physical examination – The doctor will first examine the throat and the tonsils. Using a lighted instrument, the doctor will visualize the tonsils, throat, ears and nasal passages. The doctor will also palpate the neck to check for inflamed glands or lymph nodes. Breathing sounds will also be checked to see if the infection has affected the lungs.

Rapid test – The rapid test determines the presence of the bacteria in the throat. This is done in the doctor’s office and it’s accurate.

Throat culture – A throat culture also involves swabbing the throat with a cotton swab. The swab will be examined in the laboratory and the result will come out in about 1 to 2 days. This test is more accurate than the rapid test. This will also help determine which antibiotic will best work on the bacteria present in the throat.


The following are the treatment options for a sore throat:

Antibiotics – Antibiotics are used to treat sore throats caused by bacteria. If the causative agent is a virus, there is no need for antibiotics. Inappropriate use of antibiotics for viral diseases expose patients to its side effects and also, antibiotic resistance.

Oral rinse – Some gargles are used to soothe the throat. In some cases, you can use salt-water gargle.

Pain medicines – Pain medicines can provide relief from pain. Some of the medicines often prescribed for pain are acetaminophen and NSAIDs.

Sprays – Some sprays contain anesthetics to treat a sore throat. However, some sprays contain plant extracts to soothe a sore throat.

Lozenges – There are over-the-counter lozenges used to provide relief for a sore throat and relieve dryness in the throat.

Other treatments – Other treatments used to provide sore throat relief include drinking warm beverages, and eating cold desserts.

Sore throat remedies

  • Rest is the best treatment for a viral sore throat. Make sure you rest your voice and avoid talking too much
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep the throat hydrated and moist. Do not drink alcohol and drinks containing caffeine because these can dehydrate you.
  • Try consuming soothing food and drinks such as warm liquids. Warm liquids include broth, warm water with honey and caffeine-free tea. Cold food and drinks can also help with popsicles.
  • Gargle with warm water with salt.
  • Use a humidifier to reduce dry air that may further irritate the throat.
  • Use hard candy or lozenges.
  • Avoid irritants like smoking, and other chemicals.


As they always say, prevention is better than cure. Preventing having a sore throat can be done through:

  • Washing your hands properly, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
  • When you a cough or sneeze, use a tissue and discard it right away.
  • Do not share drinking glasses, utensils and food.
  • Always carry your sanitizer in case there is no place to wash your hands.
  • Do not touch public drinking fountains and public phones with your mouth.
  • Avoid coming in contact with people who are sick.