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Sore Throat


Sore throats (pharyngitis) are a very common medical condition.  Sore throats are most frequently caused by viral infections.  The majority of sore throats heal on their own.  The symptoms may be relieved with home treatments and over-the-counter medications.  Sore throats that are caused by bacteria can be serious and require antibiotics. 


Two tonsils are located in the back of the throat.  Two adenoids are positioned in your upper throat in the area behind your nose.  The tonsils and adenoids are glands that filter germs that enter through your nose and mouth to help keep you healthy.


Most sore throats are caused by viral infections.  Some sore throats are caused by bacterial infections.  In many cases, a sore throat is the symptom of a cold, flu, or mono (mononucleosis).  A sore throat can be a symptom of allergies, breathing dry or polluted air, laryngitis, and GERD.


A sore throat causes pain at the back of the throat.  Your throat may feel scratchy or swollen.  Symptoms may feel worse in the morning and when you breathe, swallow or talk.


Most people with sore throats do not need to see a doctor.  However, you should contact a doctor if a fever, rash, severe difficulty swallowing, or severe difficulty breathing accompanies a sore throat.  Contact a doctor if there is pus at the back of your throat or if your lymph glands in the neck are swollen and tender.  Contact a doctor if a young child is drooling excessively.  A doctor can help with a sore throat after reviewing your medical history and examining you.  Your blood and cells from your throat will be tested to identify the cause and severity of your infection.


The majority of sore throats heal on their own, and symptoms can be soothed with home remedies and over-the-counter treatments.  Drinking liquids, or sucking on popsicles can help.  Sucking on throat lozenges or hard candy can help increase saliva to ease symptoms.  Gargling with a solution made of ½ teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water several times a day is a popular home remedy.  A vaporizer or humidifier can increase the humidity in a room and make breathing easier. 

Significant sore throats that are caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics.  Antibiotics cannot treat sore throats that are caused by viruses.  Sore throats caused by viruses heal on their own.  Repeated episodes of sore throats may be a sign of allergies, and a person should be evaluated by an allergist.


You can help prevent germs from spreading by washing your hands regularly with soap and water.  A vaporizer or humidifier can moisten dry air, making it easier to breathe.

Am I at Risk

Your risk for a sore throat is increased if:
• You smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke.
• You are a child or teen.
• You have allergies.
• You breathe polluted air or chemicals.
• You have a lowered immune system, as with HIV, diabetes, cancer treatments, or steroid treatments.
• You have frequent sinus infections.
• You are exposed to people with a sore throat.  (A sore throat can be contagious).

Some sore throats may be the sign of a more serious infection, such as mono (mononucleosis), strep throat, or tonsillitis.