If you have ever had a sore throat, you know how miserable it can make you. Whether it’s simply a symptom of the common cold or something more serious like strep throat or tonsillitis, no one enjoys the feeling it brings.
Also known as pharyngitis, sore throats are most often caused by a viral infection that results in a raw, painful throat and cold-like symptoms. Fortunately, knowing what causes a sore throat and how to prevent one can be a great way to keep yourself pain-free.
What Causes A Sore Throat?
Most sore throats are caused by a viral infection. For those suffering from a common cold, influenza or mononucleosis, it is common for a sore throat to accompany the existing illness.
Allergies and bacterial infections—like an upper respiratory infection or strep throat—can also cause a sore throat.
Sore Throat Treatment
Unfortunately, antibiotics are only helpful when a sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will not help a sore throat caused by a virus.
For most viral infections, no medical treatment is required unless the sore throat lasts longer than a few days.
If a sore throat is caused by strep, you will likely need a penicillin-type medication or another antibiotic. Typically, a doctor will prescribe the medication for seven to 10 days.
It’s important that you complete the full dose (even if you notice symptoms diminishing) so that the infection is completely treated. For children, strep poses a risk of rheumatic fever, so finishing all of the medication is especially important.
A healthcare provider can help determine the cause of your sore throat and the best way to treat it. No matter what is causing your sore throat, you should also practice the following at-home care strategies to help you recover more quickly:
- Get at least eight hours of rest each night
- Stay hydrated so your throat is kept moist
- Stick to comforting foods and beverages like warm liquids and cold treats
- Gargle with ¼ to ½ teaspoon of table salt in 4 to 8 ounces of warm water
- Keep the air humid by using a cold-air humidifier
- Use a lozenge or hard candy when needed to sooth your sore throat
- Stay away from cigarette smoke and cleaning products that can cause irritation
Sore Throat Symptoms
Sore throat symptoms include throat pain and difficulty swallowing. You may also have cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, hoarseness or a cough.
If you are suffering from strep throat, you may experience these additional symptoms:
If you think you may have strep throat, you should see a doctor as the bacterial infection can become serious if left untreated.
How to Prevent a Sore Throat
There are times a sore throat is inevitable—like when it’s caused by allergies. However, you can take several steps to prevent sicknesses like a cold or the flu, which commonly cause sore throats. To keep yourself from getting sick, no matter what time of year, it’s important to:
- Keep a distance from anyone who is sick
- Wash your hands regularly with soapy, warm water
- Avoid sharing food, drinks and utensils with others
- Avoid touching your eyes and face
- Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Get plenty of rest and aim for eight hours of sleep each night
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids
It’s also recommended that those over the age of 6 months get a flu shot every year.
Sore Throat or Strep Throat?
Many people confuse a sore throat with strep throat; however, one is usually much more severe than the other.
When a sore throat is caused by a cold it will usually go away within a day or two.
Strep throat, on the other hand, is more persistent and will typically last longer than two days. Caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, strep throat is highly contagious.
The bacterial infection is spread when someone who has contracted the infection sneezes or coughs or when you touch a surface that has been contaminated and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
A doctor will typically perform a rapid strep test that can offer a proper diagnosis quickly.
Sore Throat and Allergies
For people who suffer from allergies, sore throats are a very common occurrence.
When you encounter an allergen, such as dust or pollen, your body releases chemicals that increase the amount of mucus your body produces. Because of this, the excess mucus may drain down the throat—an allergy symptom typically called postnasal drip—which can cause a sore throat.
You can tell if your sore throat is caused by allergies if you experience other symptoms like itchy, watery eyes and sneezing. The best way to treat allergies is by taking an antihistamine.
When to See a Doctor for a Sore Throat
For sore throats that aren’t severe and seem to be caused by a cold or allergies, it is not necessary to see a doctor. However, there are instances when you need to seek medical attention to prevent your sore throat from getting worse or turning into a more serious illness.
Contact a healthcare provider if:
- Your neck is tender
- You have trouble swallowing
- You suspect you have strep throat
- Your pain is severe
- Your throat doesn’t get better after a week
- You are pregnant and the symptoms last longer than three days
CareNow® Urgent Care Can Help with A Sore Throat
If you’re suffering from a sore throat that continues for more than a couple days, you should seek medical care so you can be properly treated.
CareNow® has more than 100 urgent care clinics throughout the U.S., so we’re ready to serve you when you need it.
To avoid the waiting room during your visit, be sure to use the Web Check-In® feature on our website.
Disclaimer: Patient’s health can vary. While this content was approved for publishing by a board certified medical director, always consult with your personal medical professional first before deciding that any medical advice from the internet is right for you.