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December 6, 2012

Symptom Information: Sore Throat


Sore throat (Other names: Pharyngitis, inflammation of the pharynx, raw throat, pharyngeal inflammation, throat pain).  

General Description:

A sore throat is pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat.  It is associated with the various parts of the throat and named for the specific area affected i.e. the pharyngitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis and the less common but very serious epiglottitis.


Some causes of a sore throat are:

  • Viral infections – Most common.  Viral illnesses that cause a sore throat include, common cold, flu (influenza), mononucleosis (mono), measles, chickenpox, croup.  
  • Bacterial infections – less common. Bacterial infections that can cause a sore throat include, strep throat (from Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus), Whooping cough, diphtheria.
  • Allergies - Allergies to pets, molds, dust or pollen.
  • Postnasal drip - This can irritate and inflame the throat.
  • Dryness - Dry indoor air, especially in winter. This can be worsened by breathing through your mouth due nasal congestion.
  • Irritants - Air pollution, tobacco smoke or chemicals.
  • Muscle strain - Yelling  or  speaking  for extended periods of time without rest.   
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - A digestive system disorder in which stomach acids back up in the food pipe.  
  • Tumors - Cancerous tumors of the throat  and  larynx.


Risk factors:

Age - Children and teens are more vulnerable.  Tobacco - Smoking and secondhand smoke is  irritating to the throat.  Allergies - Allergies or ongoing allergic reactions to dust, molds or pet dander can make you more prone to develop a sore throat than are people who don't have allergies.  Exposure to chemical irritants - The air from the burning of fossil fuels or   common household chemicals and cleaners can cause throat irritation. Chronic or frequent sinus infections - Sinus infections increase the risk of sore throat due to the irritation caused by drainage from the nose. Close quarters - Living and working in small space especially in winter when more time is spent inside and less fresh air is available.  Areas such as child care centers, classrooms, offices, prisons and military installations are examples.  Lowered immunity - You are more susceptible to a sore throat when you have HIV, diabetes, are taking steroids or chemotherapy drugs, are under stress, fatigued,  and/or have a poor diet.


How you can help your doctor:

  • Prepare a list of medication that you take.  Be sure to include bout the OTC (over the counter) as well a prescription drugs.     
  • Document what symptoms you have besides a sore throat.
  • Identify when the symptoms began.
  • Did the symptoms begin quickly or gradually?
  • Is there, or was there fever associated with the sore throat?
  • If yes, what was the temperature and how long did it last?
  • Has there been any difficulty breathing?
  • How have you treated the sore throat in order to lessen the symptoms?
  • Can you associate any action that makes the sore throat worse, such as swallowing?
  • Is a sore throat a recurring problem?
  • Have you identified any other symptoms or problems that seem unrelated to your sore throat but occur at the same time?
  • Are you a smoker?
  • Are you regularly exposed to second hand smoke?
  • Do you have any food allergies?
  • Do you have any drug allergies?
  • Do you have any environmental allergies?
  • Do you take allergy medication?


When to make an appointment with your doctor

You should see a doctor when you have a sore throat for more than a week or is associated with difficulty swallowing or breathing, difficulty opening your mouth, joint pain, earache, rash, fever over 101 F (38.3 C), blood in saliva or phlegm, have frequently recurring sore throats, a lump in your neck or hoarseness lasting more than two weeks.

When is it an emergency?

If you experience a sore throat with difficulty breathing, drooling, leaning forward to breathe, taking rapid shallow breaths, "pulling in" of muscles in the neck or between the ribs with breathing, high-pitched whistling sound when breathing, and/or have trouble speaking you should seek emergency help.  This could be epiglottitis which is the inflammation of the epiglottis (this the tall semi tubular structure at the back of the throat). This type of sore throat is rare and is an emergency as the airway can close or block.  

 For Patients Go to Symptom CheckerFor Clinicians Free trial of Isabel

Dawn Bonsor

Dawn Bonsor

Dawn had over 25 years of clinical practice and healthcare informatics experience and two degrees (nursing and computer engineering) when she joined Isabel in 2010. An essential part of our team, Dawn is our Vice President of Client Services.


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