What Causes a Sore Throat?

Young woman touching her neck in pain
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There are many different causes of a sore throat, ranging from inflammation caused by such conditions as acid reflux, to infections and abnormal growths. The following are some causes of a sore throat:

Strep Infection

Strep throat causes redness, swelling and pain. If you have a sore throat, your doctor will often test you for strep by swabbing a Q-tip along the back of your throat. Strep throat is treated with antibiotics.

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The Common Cold

There are more than 200 viruses that are responsible for the common cold, and many cause the symptoms of a sore throat. Because the common cold is caused by a virus, and these viruses are constantly mutating, there is no cure. There is also no single test to determine if one of these viruses are the cause of your sore throat. In some cases, daily habits can exacerbate a sore throat if you have a cold or infection. Drinking cold water, for example, may irritate your sore throat further. For more information, please read:

Sinus Infections and Chronic Post-Nasal Drip

Sinus infections (also called sinusitis) can cause a sore throat, as can chronic post nasal drip.

Post nasal drip feels like a runny nose in the back of your throat and can be caused by sinusitis, allergies, upper respiratory infections and pregnancy. For more information, please read:

Mono

Mono is a shortened term for the disease mononucleosis, which can cause an extremely sore throat and swollen tonsils. Mono is mainly spread through saliva and is common in teenagers. Mono cannot be treated with antibiotics and can take three months or more to resolve. For more information, please read:

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when acid from the stomach spills into the esophagus and sometimes into the throat, irritating the tissue. This common condition most often occurs when you are lying down, so a sore throat from acid reflux is most likely to occur in the morning.

Treating a sore throat caused by acid reflux (or GERD) usually involves medications that reduce or neutralize acid in the stomach. Some of these medications include the proton pump inhibitor dexlansoprazole (Dexilant), calcium carbonate (Tums) or milk of magnesia. For more information, please read:

Allergies

Allergies affect millions of people in the United States. Besides a sore throat, they commonly cause fatigue, a runny nose, post-nasal drip and itchy eyes and ears. Allergies are caused by many things, including pollen, grass, mold, dust and pet dander. Allergies are often treated by a class of medications called antihistamines. For more information, please read:

Sore Throat Caused By Surgery

You would expect certain surgeries to cause a sore throat, but because a breathing tube is inserted into the back of your throat and into your lungs you can develop a sore throat for a short time anytime after having general anesthesia. Specific surgeries that can cause you to have a severe sore throat and hoarseness include thyroidectomies, tonsillectomies and the removal of vocal fold cysts. The following articles may be helpful:

Throat Cancer

Cancer is one of the more rare and serious causes of sore throat. Symptoms can include difficulty swallowing, weight loss, a chronic cough and ear pain. Some people are at a higher risk for throat cancer, especially those who drink alcohol or smoke. There is also some evidence that the sexually transmitted virus HPV can cause some kinds of head and neck cancer. This cause is rare, but if you have these risk factors or suspect that you may have throat cancer, see your doctor. When throat cancer is detected early, it can be cured in the majority of cases. For more information, please read:

Other Conditions

Of course this article does not cover every condition that can cause a sore throat. Other possible causes include (but are not limited to):

Sources:

American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Fact Sheet: Common Problems That Can Affect Your Voice. Accessed: September 2, 2009 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/commonvoiceproblems.cfm

American Family of Physicians. Head and Neck Manifestations of Gastroesophageal Refulx Disease. Accessed: June 10, 2011 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/990901ap/873.html

CDC. Epstein Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis. Accessed: April 20, 2009 

MedlinePlus. Herpangina. Accessed: November 19, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000969.htm

Medline Plus. Strep Throat. Accessed: September 15, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000639.htm

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Common Cold. Accessed: February 1, 2009. http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commonCold/

New England Journal of Medicine. Case-Control Study of Human Papillomavirus and Oropharyngeal Cancer. Accessed: February 25, 2010 from http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/356/19/1944

Sexton, D.J. & Friedman, N.D. Patient information: The common cold in adults. www.uptodate.com (subscription required). August, 2006.

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