A sore throat is a scratchy painful feeling in the back of your throat. If you have a sore throat, it may hurt to swallow or to talk. Many things cause sore throats, from bacterial and viral infections to allergies and sleeping with your mouth open. Most sore throat symptoms go away in a few days. You should contact a healthcare provider if your sore throat lasts longer than a week, gets worse or you develop symptoms like fever or swollen lymph nodes.
A sore throat may start with a raspy feeling in your throat, as if your throat is dry. It may also feel like your throat is on fire. If your sore throat gets worse, you may feel a sharp pain in your throat when you swallow or talk. You may feel pain in your ears or down the side of your neck.
Apart from throat pain, sore throat symptoms may include:
- Upset stomach.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Nasal congestion (stuffy nose).
- Runny nose.
Most sore throats happen because you have a viral infection, like the common cold or flu. Sore throats may be a symptom of the following conditions or issues:
Bacterial infection: Strep throat and bacterial sinus infections are examples of bacterial infections that may cause sore throats.
Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, pets or mold can make your throat dry and scratchy. Sore throat from allergies results from postnasal drip (when mucus from your nose drips down the back of your throat). The mucus irritates your throat and causes pain.
Tonsillitis: Tonsils are the two small lumps of soft tissue at the back of your throat. They trap the germs that make you sick. Tonsillitis occurs when your tonsils become infected and inflamed. Bacteria and viruses can cause tonsillitis.
Acid reflux: People with a condition called gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) feel burning and pain in their throat. This pain, called heartburn, happens when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus. Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach.
Overuse or irritants: You can strain your throat by yelling or screaming. You may also develop a sore throat if you eat spicy food, smoke or drink very hot liquids.
Mouth breathing: You may have a sore throat if you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose when you’re sleeping.
Viral infections like colds and flu often cause sore throats. You can reduce your sore throat by protecting yourself against colds and flu. Some ways to do that include:
- Washing your hands often, using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Avoid people who are sneezing and coughing.
- If you do spend time with people who are sneezing and coughing, avoid sharing food, drink or utensils.
- Be vaccinated against flu.