Skip to content

    Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Get to the Bottom of Your Sore Throat

    A scratchy throat can be more than just an annoyance. Experts offer tips for assessing your sore throat “threat level.”
    By
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    As a symptom of illness, sore throat rivals fatigue for being both commonplace and a potential sign of catastrophe. Usually, having a sore throat is nothing to worry about -- most are caused by cold and flu germs. In rare cases, however, a sore throat can signal something much more serious. One of the first symptoms of infection caused by the dreaded ebola virus, for example, is a sore throat.

    And strep bacteria, a common cause of sore throat, especially in children, can spread like wildfire if it gets into the blood, damaging the liver, brain, kidneys, and other organs.

    Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

    Is the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safe?

    What do we really know about the 2009 H1N1 swine fluvaccine? What do we really not know? Questions about the safety of the vaccine persist. Surf the Internet or flip through TV stations and you'll encounter a multitude of myths and a whole lot of hype. What are the facts? Straightforward answers follow these questions: Is the 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine safe? Isn't the 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine too new to trust? Why should I believe what government scientists...

    Read the Is the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Safe? article > >

    Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, came down with a sore throat caused by a strep infection late Sunday, May 13, 1990. He was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia on Tuesday and died 20 hours later of septic shock, a life-threatening response to a severe infection.

    "In the preantibiotic era, people died from sore throats all the time," says Robert T. Sataloff, MD, associate dean for clinical academic specialties at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. "They'd end up with general toxicity and seed infections in the brain or lungs, and they'd die."

    So how do you know the difference between a scratchy throat that will disappear on its own and the start of a potentially deadly infection?

    Sore Throat Threat Level: Always "Guarded"

    When it comes to sore throat, forget the "low" threat level. The symptom always merits "guarded" or even "elevated" alertness. Pay attention, but don't panic.

    If you were talking loudly at a noisy, smoky bar, you may have strained your vocal cords, resulting in throat soreness. If you have hay fever, or if your allergies are acting up, that can make your throat feel scratchy. Even sleeping with your mouth open in the winter, when the air can get as dry as the Sahara, can cause a sore throat.

    Even if your sore throat is caused by a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu, you probably can wait it out while drinking hot tea with honey and sucking on throat lozenges to ease the discomfort. Because most sore throats are caused by viruses that don't respond to antibiotics, there's not much you can do about them outside of resting so your immune system is strong and ready to fight the invaders.

    Today on WebMD

    hot toddy
    15 tips to help you feel better.
    man sneezing into elbow
    Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
     
    teen girl coughing
    Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
    elder berry
    Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
     
    Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
    Slideshow
    cold weather
    VIDEO
     
    Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
    Article
    Boy holding ear
    Slideshow
     
    woman receiving vaccine shot
    Article
    woman with fever
    Article
     
    Waking up from sleep
    Article
    woman with sore throat
    Slideshow