What To Do About Your Sore Throat

Possible Causes of Sore Throats

Sore Throat
What Can You Do For a Sore Throat?. Image Source/Getty Images

Sore throats are a common symptom of many upper respiratory illnesses. Most of them are harmless and will go away on their own, but others can be more serious, especially if left untreated.

If you aren't sure what is causing your sore throat, go through our list to see what some of the most common causes are. 

  • Strep Throat or Scarlet Fever
    If you experience a very sore throat, and it is painful just to swallow, you could have strep throat. Most people with strep throat also have a fever, and some kids may experience stomach pain as well. Scarlet fever is a type of strep throat that also includes a rash on the body. If left untreated, strep throat and scarlet fever can lead to a serious infection of the heart known as rheumatic fever. It's also important to remember that strep does not cause respiratory symptoms like cough and congestion. If you or your child also has these symptoms, it's highly unlikely that you also have strep. 
  • Common Cold
    Sore throats often accompany colds due to the irritation caused by mucus running down your throat. These sore throats are typically mild and last only a few days.
  • Influenza (Flu)
    As with colds, flu-related irritation can cause a sore throat — often due either to mucus, or to coughing that often occurs with the flu.
  • Tonsillitis
    Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils that can be caused by a virus or a bacteria. Treatment and symptoms will depend on the cause.
  • Allergies
    Seasonal allergies can cause sore throats due to the body's response to the things you're allergic to. If you're exposed to allergens, you may experience swelling, itchiness or pain, typically in your face and throat.
  • Flu-Like Illness or other Viral Infection
    Other viruses that cause upper respiratory symptoms can lead to sore throats as well. Usually due to mucus draining down your throat or irritation from coughing, the sore throat should not last more than a week.
  • Dry or Polluted Air
    Some people wake up in the morning with a sore throat due to dry air in their homes at night. You may also experience occasional sore throats due to pollution, especially if you live in a big city with a lot of smog.
  • Smoking or Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke
    Smoke can irritate the throat and cause soreness just like dry air and pollution do. If you are a smoker, you should quit. If you smoke and have children in the house, your habit could be making them sick.

When to See a Doctor for a Sore Throat

Most sore throats are not a reason for concern and don't warrant a visit to the doctor. But some do, and you need to know the differences between them.

You should seek medical attention if you have any of these symptoms with your sore throat:

  • Sore throat that lasts longer than a week
  • Fever higher than 100.4 degrees F
  • Pus in the back of your throat
  • Rash on your body
  • Hoarseness that lasts longer than 2 weeks
  • Blood in your saliva or mucus
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Known exposure to someone with strep throat
  • Recurring sore throats

If you have a sore throat and any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately, as they could be signs of a life threatening medical emergency:

  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Child that is drooling excessively
  • Extreme lethargy or difficulty waking

Sore Throat Treatments

If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection such as strep throat or scarlet fever, you will need to take antibiotics to get rid of the infection. These can only be prescribed by a health care provider, who will determine which medication is right for you based on your infection.

It's also important to note that antibiotics will not help if you don't have a bacterial infection. Taking antibiotics when they aren't necessary can lead to antibiotic resistance, making it harder to treat infections you might get in the future.

If you do not need antibiotics to treat your sore throat, there are several things you can try to attempt to soothe the pain. These things may also help relieve the pain of a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection, and many of them can be used in addition to antibiotics. Talk to your health care provider about which of these remedies might be right for you.

Sore Throat Remedies

  • Drink warm liquids such as hot tea with honey and lemon or warm broth.
  • Eat cold foods such as Popsicles and ice cream.
  • Gargle with warm salt water
  • Take OTC pain relievers such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Run a humidifier - can be very helpful if your sore throat is caused or worsened by dry air


Sore Throat Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work. 2 May 12. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services.