A sore throat is categorized as pain or irritation in the throat, often getting worse when you swallow. There are many things that can cause a sore throat, including dry air, irritants such as cigarette smoke, postnasal drip, viral infections (such as cold, flu, or mono), and bacterial infections (such as strep throat).

Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of a sore throat may include:

  • Painful swallowing
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Swollen glands in your neck/jaw area
  • Pain/irritation in the throat
  • Scratchy/hoarse voice
  • Fever
  • Headache

Treatment

Treatment options vary depending on the cause of your sore throat and include:

  • Getting enough rest (8 hours) and drinking plenty of hydrating fluids
  • Gargling with warm salt-water
  • Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Using soothing throat lozenges, cough drops, or anesthetic throat sprays

Antibiotics may be prescribed if the sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection such as strep throat, but antibiotics will not help if it’s a viral infection and may cause bad side effects. Your health care provider may test you for strep infection by swabbing your throat with a cotton swab.

When to Seek Medical Attention

  • Symptoms persist for more than 3 days OR if the pain is severe.
  • White patches appear on your throat or tonsils.
  • You experience a high fever, severe headache, or unusual rash.
  • You experience difficulty swallowing to the point that it’s hard to swallow your own saliva.
  • You experience difficulty breathing.
  • You are vomiting and unable to keep down fluids.

Causes & Prevention

Most commonly, a sore throat is a sign of a viral infection (a cold or flu). It can also be caused by allergens such as smoke or by excessive coughing. Though less common, a sore throat can be a sign of a bacterial infection like strep throat. To avoid getting a sore throat:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid smoking/secondhand smoke.
  • Stay away from others who are already sick.
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