Why Do Our Throats Get Sore?

Sore Throat. Jens Koenig/Stock4B/Getty Images

Sore throats can be caused by many things - allergies, colds, the flu, strep throat. These infections and even more things can lead to sore throats but do you know what happens in your body to cause your throat to be sore? Why exactly does it hurt when you swallow or cough or just breathe?

Our throats feel sore when they are swollen and irritated. This is often caused by an infection such as a cold, the flu or strep throat.

Colds and the flu are caused by viruses and strep throat is caused by a bacteria but both cause an inflammatory response in our bodies, leading to swelling and irritation.

The swelling and inflammation in the throat causes pain and soreness when you eat, swallow or sometimes even breathe.

When to Be Concerned

Sore throats usually resolve on their own within a few days or when the illness that is causing them resolves. A majority of sore throats are caused by viruses rather than bacteria (strep throat is bacterial) and can be relieved or managed with at-home remedies.

However, there are times when a sore throat shouldn't be ignored and you may need to seek medical treatment.

If you have a sore throat and any of the following, contact your health care provider:

  • If you have white patches in your throat
  • If you also have a fever that has lasted more than 2 days
  • If you also have a cough that lasts longer than a week
  • If your mouth is peeling and your gums or tongue are swollen
  • If your child has a sore throat and a harsh cough that sounds like a "seal bark"

What You Can Do

If you don't need to see a doctor for your sore throat but you are looking for some relief, there are several things you can try.

---> 6 Simple Ways to Soothe a Sore Throat

Taking an over the counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen can help reduce swelling and pain. Gargling with warm salt water can bring relief as well. Drinking lots of liquids - either warm or cold - with help keep your throat moist (reducing irritation from dry air). Try honey - put honey in your hot tea or eat a spoonful (just don't give it to kids under 12 months old because it can cause botulism). Studies have shown honey coats the throat and can help relieve coughs and soothe sore throats as well. Quit smoking. If you smoke, irritation in your throat is nearly constant and you are more prone to sore throats (among many other things).

Sore throats are something we all deal with from time to time. Usually they are minor and go away after a couple of days and occasionally they are more severe and need more significant treatment. If you are dealing with a sore throat and you are concerned about it or it is so severe that you can't get relief with at-home treatments, contact your health care provider.


"Sore Throat? Know When to Call the Doctor" Osteopathic Medicine and Your Health. 2014. American Osteopathic Association. 2 Aug 14.

"Sore Throat" Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. 16 May 14. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Department of Health and Human Services. 2 Aug 14.