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Sore Throat

Sore throat: Causes, symptoms, and prevention

We all have a sore throat sometime in our lives. We dismiss it as mere inflammation of the throat. But sometimes, it may cause complications. Let's try to have a detailed understanding of this disease.


 A sore throat can be a sensation of scratchiness, pain, or irritation in the throat that often intensifies during swallowing. The most common cause of sore throat is a viral infection which usually manifests as a cold and flu. Viral sore throats resolve on their own without any medical intervention. Bacterial sore throat or strep throat is mainly due to streptococcal infection. It may require antibiotic therapy to prevent complications.


 What are the common symptoms of a sore throat?

The symptoms of throat soreness vary with the cause of the disease. Some common signs and
 symptoms of sore throat are:

  • A feeling of pain and scratchiness in the throat
  • The intensity of pain and discomfort increases with swallowing
  • Swelling of the glands of the neck or jaws
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • White patch or pus on the tonsils
  • Hoarseness or muffling of voice

As we know, sore throat is a common manifestation of upper respiratory tract infection; there may be other concomitant symptoms, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting

If your child has a sore throat, it is better to seek the advice of your healthcare provider immediately. Some of the alarming signs of sore throat in a child are:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Unusual drooling from the mouth

For an adult, one should seek the doctor's consultation if sore throat is associated with the following:

  • Sore throat lasting for more than a month
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Pain while opening the mouth
  • Joint pain
  • Pain in ear
  • Rashes
  • Fever more than 101 degrees F
  • Blood in saliva
  • Blood in phlegm
  • Recurrent episodes of sore throat
  • A lump in the neck
  • Hoarseness of voice lasting more than 15 days
  • Swelling in the face or neck

What are the causes of a sore throat?


We have already discussed that viral infections are the most common cause of sore throat,
followed by bacterial infections.

  • Viral infections

Viral illnesses that cause a sore throat include:
 o Common cold
 o Chickenpox
 o Flu or influenza
 o Infectious mononucleosis
 o Measles
 o Coronavirus disease
 o Croup. It is a common childhood condition characterized by a harsh and barking cough.

  •  o Bacterial infections

 Though many bacteria can cause sore throat, the most common among them is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus) or strep throat.

  •  o Other causes

 The other causes of sore throat include:

  •  o Allergies:

 A sore throat can be due to an allergy to molds, dust, pet dander, or pollens. Most often, a person with a sore throat due to allergies experiences post-nasal drip (PND). This PND may further irritate and inflame the already affected throat.

  •  o Dryness:

 Dry indoor air can cause a feeling of roughness or scratchiness in your throat. Sometimes you tend to breathe through your mouth because of chronic nasal congestion. Mouth breathing can cause dryness and soreness of the throat.

  • o Irritants:

 Some of the common throat irritants are:

  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Indoor pollution
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating spicy foods also can irritate your throat
  • o Muscle strain:

 Sometimes sore throat can strain the muscles of your throat by excessive yelling or
 talking loudly for extended periods without rest.

  •  o Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):

 GERD is one of the most common digestive disorders. In this condition, the stomach acids move back to the esophagus or food pipe. Some of the common symptoms of GERD are:

  • Heartburn
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Sore throat
  • Regurgitation of stomach content
  • The sensation of a lump in your throat
  • o HIV infection.

 During the initial phases of HIV infection, a patient may experience sore throat and flu-like symptoms.
HIV-positive patients have a chronic or recurring sore throat due to a fungal infection called oral thrush or a viral infection called cytomegalovirus (CMV). These infections can be risky in people with weakened immune systems.

  •  o Tumors

 Tumors of the throat, tongue and sound box (larynx) often cause a sore throat. Other symptoms of these tumors are:

  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Noisy breathing
  • A lump in the neck
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • o Throat abscess or epiglottitis

 An infected area of tissue or abscess in the throat or swelling of the epiglottis (cartilage lid of the windpipe) can cause a sore throat.

 What are the common risk factors associated with a sore throat?

 A sore throat can inflict anyone, but some risk factors make you more susceptible, such as:

  • Age:

Children and teens are more prone to sore throats. One reason can be that children between three to fifteen years have higher strep throat, the most common bacteria responsible for a sore throat.

Exposure to tobacco smoke:

 Both smoking and secondhand smoke are injuries to health. Tobacco smoke can irritate the throat. Tobacco can also increase the risk of mouth, throat, and voice box cancers.  Allergies:
You are more prone to a sore throat if you are allergic to seasonal changes, dust, molds, or pet dander.

  • Exposure to chemical irritants:

Particulate air pollution from fossil fuels and household chemicals can cause sore throat.

  • Chronic or frequent sinus infections:

Nasal drainage can irritate your throat and further spread infection.

  • Poorly ventilated households:

Viral and bacterial infections spread due to poor ventilation or at places where people gather, causing a sore throat.

  • Weakened immunity.


 One of the major causes of bacterial and viral infections is low immunity. Some of the most common causes of lowered immunity are:
 o HIV
 o Diabetes
 o Steroids
 o Chemotherapy drugs
 o Stress
 o Fatigue
 o Poor diet.

 Prevention

 The best way to prevent sore throats is to minimize the interaction with disease-causing pathogens by practicing good hygiene habits. The following are some simple hygiene tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after using the washrooms, before
     and after having food, and during sneezing or coughing.
  • Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Avoid sharing food
  • Use separate drinking glasses and utensils.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are unavailable.
  • Clean and disinfect phones regularly.
  • Maintain proper distancing practices with infected people

The Conclusion

 Sore throat is one of the most common conditions affecting most of us. Though most of the time,
 it can resolve on its own, if the symptoms worsen, do not hesitate to connect with your doctor.

Dr. Arulalan M
Meet The Doctor
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