Sore Throat Causes and Treatment

A scratchy, irritated throat is something we all experience. Knowing the various sore throat causes may help you avoid them.

See your doctor if you have chronic sore throat symptoms—a severe sore throat that lasts longer than a week.

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Sore throats often begin with a slight tickling sensation that progresses to a painful irritation, which ultimately makes swallowing and talking difficult. But what are the most common sore throat causes, and what’s the best way to treat a sore throat?

The condition—also called pharyngitis—occurs when your throat becomes infected from either viruses or bacteria. Other sore throat causes can include canker sores, post-nasal drip, and the inhaling of such irritants as tobacco smoke. Breathing extremely dry air can cause a sore throat as well.

Sore Throat Treatment… and Relief

There is no cure for sore throats that are due to viral infection. But most sore throats clear up without treatment within one to two weeks. (An exception is if you have a sore throat from mononucleosis, in which case symptoms may last much longer.)

There are many home remedies you can use to help soothe the pain and irritation until you recover. These sore throat treatments include inhaling steam, sucking on throat lozenges, gargling with salt water, and taking aspirin or acetaminophen for pain.

Chronic Sore Throat Symptoms?

See your doctor if you have chronic sore throat symptoms—a severe case that lasts longer than a week. With chronic sore throat, you may have difficulty breathing, swallowing, or even opening your mouth.

Other problems that may show up with severe sore throat and that require immediate medical attention involve regular joint pain, an earache, a rash, or a constant fever of 101°F or higher.

During an examination of your chronic sore throat, your doctor will study your the inside of your throat to determine possible causes. If he suspects strep throat, he may perform a “rapid strep” test that can determine in about five to 15 minutes whether you have the ailment, which is caused by the streptococcus bacteria. If so, you will begin immediate treatment with antibiotics. (Read our related post “Antibiotics Are Overprescribed.”)

Even if the test is negative, however, you could still have a bacterial infection, and your doctor may still prescribe medication. (Keep in mind that it is essential that you take the full course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better. Stopping the medicine early gives the bacteria an opportunity to regroup and can allow serious complications to develop.

Your sore throat could also be a symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome. For more information, check out “Chronic Fatigue Symptoms, Risk and Causes.”

Originally published in 2016 and regularly updated.

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Matthew Solan

Matthew Solan has served as executive editor of Harvard Men's Health Watch since 2016. He was previously executive editor for UCLA Health's Healthy Years and was a regular contributor to … Read More

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