Why Do I Have a Sore Throat?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on November 30, 2022
4 min read

You feel the swelling. It’s hard to swallow. You can tell a sore throat is coming on.

They clear up most of the time on their own without needing treatment. But you may have a hoarse voice and be very tender for a few days.

Usually, you have an infection to go along with it. But your throat could also get irritated by things such as dry air, heavy pollution, or tobacco smoke.

Take a look at why sore throats happen and what you can do about them.

The most common reason you get a sore throat is because of a cold or flu. It may be just one of several side problems you get. Cold symptoms tend to develop slowly, but a flu tends to hit you quickly.

If you are coughing, your voice is hoarse, or you have a runny nose, a cold is the most likely culprit. The common cold is less harmful than a flu, which attacks your nose, throat, and lungs. And you may get more intense symptoms, including fever, body aches, and headaches.

Some other causes of sore throat may include:

Pollution:Smoking or chemicals inside the home can cause a sore throat. Bad air pollution can also irritate it.

Overuse: Yelling or speaking for a long time can strain throat muscles.

Allergies: You could react to things such as mold, dust, pollen, and pet dander (tiny pieces of skin shed by animals).

Strep throat: The pain of this can be so strong that it may hurt a lot when you swallow. You may also see a white or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils, which are those two clumps of tissue at the back of the throat.

You should see your doctor if you think you have strep. They can swab your throat and run a test to find out if you really have it. You’re likely to be prescribed antibiotics, a type of medicine that kills bacteria, if you do.

Tonsillitis: Inflamed tonsils can also make your throat sore and you might have a hard time swallowing.

Mononucleosis: A virus causes mono, and it’s spread through saliva. That’s why it’s often called “the kissing disease.” Other symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, and swelling in your tonsils, neck, or armpits.

Besides your throat feeling dry, itchy, and painful, your voice may sound croaky. Your symptoms could be mild to severe, depending on the source of the problem. They could include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Swelling in your neck or jaw
  • Cough
  • Your tonsils may be swollen or red. You might also have white spots or pus on them.

You may also have several other symptoms beyond the sore throat. These can include:

There’s no instant cure for a sore throat, but there are steps you can take to make it feel better.

Be sure to get lots of rest. Sleep is important in your body’s fight against an infection. Give your voice a break, too. Rest your throat if it has gotten irritated from speaking too long. Some other things you can do:

Keep your throat moist: The drier your throat gets, the worse it feels. Drink plenty of water or eat a piece of hard candy to get more saliva. You may also want to suck on a lozenge, a small tablet that can soothe your throat.

Pick the right treats for children: Avoid giving kids small pieces of hard candy that they may choke on. Try giving them cold liquids, slushes, sherbet, or popsicles instead.

Humidity: Use a humidifier in the rooms where you spend a lot of time. This helps keep the air moist.

Clean air: Stay away from cigarette smoke and allergens.

Gargle with salt water: Combine one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of table salt with 4 to 8 ounces of warm water. Gargle and spit it out.

Pain relievers: Follow directions if you decide to use a pain reliever -- acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (AdvilMotrin). Make sure you read the directions on whether it should be given to kids and teens.

Contact your doctor if you have a severe sore throat that doesn’t clear up after several days. Adults should seek care when they have a fever that stays at 103 F or higher or a temperature of 100.4 F that lasts longer than 3 days. Call your doctor to ask about fevers in children. Other reasons to see them: