Understanding Sore Throat: Treatment, Causes, Diagnosis & More

Understanding Sore Throat: Treatment, Causes, Diagnosis & More


Sore throat is a common condition, characterized by painful, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat. It is more prevalent during the cold months of the year. Although sore throats are uncomfortable to deal with, they usually go away on their own.

Types of Sore Throat

Depending on the part of throat getting affected, sore throat can be divided into 3 types:

Tonsilitis: It is the redness and swelling of the soft tissue in the back of the mouth, called tonsils.

Pharyngitis: Soreness and swelling in the throat is called pharyngitis.

Laryngitis: Condition in which there is swelling and redness of the larynx or the voice box.

Causes of Sore Throat

The most common reason for getting a sore throat is due to cold or flu. Common cold is less harmful and severe than flu. Other reasons why a sore throat may develop include:

Pollution: Smoking or chemicals like aerosolized sprays in the form of air fresheners can cause a sore throat. Poor air quality can also irritate the throat.

Allergies: Allergy-causing factors such as pollen, grass, pet dander (small pieces of skin shed by animals) may trigger the immune system to release chemicals that cause symptoms like sore throat.

Overuse: Repeated use of the voice box in a vigorous form like yelling or shouting, strains the vocal chords and muscles in the throat, leading to hoarseness and a sore throat.

Strep throat and other bacterial infections: The most common bacterial infection is that caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. It causes infection of the throat and tonsils, leading to sore throat.

Symptoms of Sore Throat

Symptoms of sore throat may vary depending on the causative factor. It may feel

  • Dry
  • Scratchy
  • Burning
  • Raw
  • Tender
  • Irritated

Along with sore throat, some other symptoms may also be manifested like

  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Trouble swallowing

Diagnosis of Sore Throat

The diagnosis of sore throat is a two-fold process. It includes a physical examination and throat culture.

Physical examination: Your health care practitioner may use a lighted instrument to examine the throat, ears, and nasal passage. The neck region may be gently felt to rule out swollen glands (lymph nodes).

Throat culture: A throat culture is usually done if strep throat is suspected. For this, a swab is taken from the back of the throat and the collected sample is tested for strep throat bacteria. A rapid test usually gives the result within minutes. To confirm the diagnosis, the sample is sent to a laboratory.

Treatment of Sore Throat

Sore throat caused by a viral infection usually lasts 5 to 7 days. It generally doesn’t require a medical intervention. For symptoms associated with the sore throat such as fever and pain, there are antipyretics (medication to reduce fever) and other mild pain relievers.

However, if the sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, a full antibiotic course should be taken. The medication should not be left in between even if the symptoms are gone. Failure to adhere to the full antibiotic course may lead to development of rheumatic fever or serious kidney inflammation in children.

Prevention of Sore Throat

Although it is not always possible to avoid sore throat from developing, it can be prevented following certain measures. Some of these are mentioned below:

  • Washing of hands regularly with soap and water
  • Avoiding direct contact with people having respiratory distress such as colds and sore throat
  • Quitting smoking
  • Staying away from second hand smoking and air pollution

When should I see a doctor

Sore throats caused by a viral infection usually get better on their own within a week’s time. However, in some cases the sore throat needs to be treated if it exhibits serious symptoms. Some serious repercussions arising as a result of sore throat are:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Painful or stiff neck
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Presence of blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Sore throat that lasts more than a week

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Why do we get a sore throat?

Sore throats are often part of a cold that comes along with fever, runny nose, and cough. It is also a sign of bacterial throat infection such as a strep throat. It may also manifest itself as a symptom of an underlying disease like sinusitis. Several factors like smoking, allergies and overstraining of voice can also lead to a sore throat.

Can you treat a sore throat with antibiotics?

Sore throats of bacterial origin can be treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections leading to sore throats.

What is the difference between a viral throat infection and a bacterial throat infection?

Viral throat infections happen due to various viruses entering the body and attacking the throat region. Some examples are common cold and flu. On the other hand, a bacterial infection develops due to person-to-person contact. It can be transmitted through saliva while kissing or sneezing. While viral infections do not respond to antibiotics, bacterial infections can be treated with the same.

Can you treat a sore throat at home?

In most cases, a sore throat disappears without the need for any treatment or by following a few home remedies. Some of these home remedies include:

  • Gargling with warm water to which half a teaspoon of salt has been added
  • Drinking warm liquids such as soups and hot tea with honey
  • Sucking on a lozenge
  • Resting your voice until your throat seems better.

Gleneagles Global Health City is amongst the best ENT hospital in Chennai with many years of experience in this field, treating thousands of patients each year.

Dr Ashwin Karuppan V
Dr Ashwin Karuppan V
M.B.B.S, M.D (Internal Medicine)
Department of Internal Medicine, Critical Care & Diabetology

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