Sore throats can be painful and annoying. Fortunately, most sore throats are caused by a minor illness and go away without medical treatment.
Several conditions can cause a sore throat.
Sore throats may be caused by a viral illness, such as:
A bacterial infection may also cause a sore throat. This can occur from:
- Strep throat, which usually does not occur with congestion or a cough.
- An inflammation or infection of the tonsils (tonsillitis) and sometimes the adenoids (adenoiditis).
- An infection of the tissues around the tonsils (peritonsillar abscess).
- Inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis).
- Inflammation of the uvula (uvulitis).
- In rare cases, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. If you have engaged in high-risk sexual behavior, consider whether you may have gonorrhea or chlamydia. For more information, see the topic Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Irritants and injuries
A sore throat that lasts longer than a week is often caused by irritants or an injuries, such as:
- Throat irritation from low humidity, smoking, air pollution, yelling, or nasal drainage down the back of the throat (postnasal drip ).
- Breathing through the mouth when you have allergies or a stuffy nose.
- Stomach acid that backs up into the throat, which may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Although GERD often occurs with heartburn, an acid taste in the mouth, or a cough, sometimes a sore throat is the only symptom.
- An injury to the back of the throat, such as a cut or puncture from falling with a pointed object in the mouth.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that causes extreme tiredness.
Treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. You may be able to use home treatment to obtain relief.
Because viral illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat, it is important not to use antibiotics to treat them. Antibiotics do not alter the course of viral infections. Unnecessary use of an antibiotic exposes you to the risks of an allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For sore throats caused by strep, treatment with antibiotics may be needed.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.