What Causes White Spots in Your Throat?

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on May 16, 2023
3 min read

White spots in your throat may seem a little scary, but they’re not usually a sign of anything too serious.

Lots of different health conditions can cause them. Some go away on their own in a week or so, while your doctor will need to treat others with medicine.

When you think about the symptoms of this bacterial infection, a sore throat and trouble swallowing probably come to mind first. But it commonly causes white patches on your tonsils, too. You might also have these:

With strep throat, the sore throat comes on suddenly and you usually don’t have a cough. Children sometimes have a stomachache and rash, feel nauseated, and may vomit.

A group of bacteria called streptococcus causes strep throat. Your doctor can take a throat swab and do a quick test to tell if you have the infection. If the sample comes back positive, they'll give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria. You may start to feel better in as little as a day, but the antibiotics need about 10 days to finish the job.

The two tonsils at the back of your throat filter out germs to keep you healthy, but those germs can get trapped inside and cause an infection.

In addition to a white or yellow coating in your throat, you also might have:

Most of the time, viruses cause tonsillitis, so there's no cure or treatment. The illness usually runs its course in 3 or 4 days. Make sure you drink lots of fluids and rest. If bacteria caused your tonsillitis, your doctor can give you antibiotics to treat it.

This is a yeast infection in your mouth, and it happens most often in babies and older adults.

The white patches can stretch back into the sides of your mouth and tongue -- some people say they look like cottage cheese. If you try to scrape them off, you’ll see red spots and possibly have bleeding underneath.

You may also feel like there is cotton in your mouth. Your tongue may hurt or burn, making it hard to swallow or speak easily or to taste food and drinks.

See your doctor if you think you or your baby has oral thrush. They'll give you antifungal medications and check you out to make sure you don’t have an illness that caused it.

Along with white areas in your mouth, mononucleosis can make you feel really tired and bring on other symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • A sore throat
  • Swollen and sore lymph nodes
  • Head and muscle aches

These are worst in the first 2 weeks.

Because viruses (especially the Epstein-Barr virus) cause most cases of mono, there’s no real treatment. It's best to rest, drink lots of fluid, and take ibuprofen or naproxen for fever and aches.