While a sore throat itself may not interfere with your daily activities, the underlying cause of this symptom is often something that requires medical attention. Fortunately, there is often a simple way to treat these underlying conditions that lead to sore throat. The following are some of the most common causes of a sore throat, along with tips for how to determine the cause of this particular symptom and treat it.
The most common cause of a sore throat is a virus. For instance, people who have a virus that is causing a cold or the flu usually experience a sore throat. These conditions are usually easy to treat and go away within a matter of days, which also gets rid of the sore throat. Some of the symptoms which usually accompany a sore throat when it is caused by a viral infection are:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Mild body aches
- Mild fever
- Mild headaches
- Low-grade fever
If you have some of these other symptoms, it’s likely that a virus is causing your condition. In the case of a mild cold, you can often relieve your symptoms and the cold will naturally go away after a few days. For the flu, you may want to see a doctor if you feel very strong symptoms, but otherwise you can often just wait until your condition goes away naturally after several days. In the meantime, you can use over-the-counter medications, cough drops and plenty of fluids to help relieve your symptoms.
A sore throat can also be caused by bacteria, although this is much less common than those which are caused by a virus. One example of this is strep throat, which is caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria and is the most common bacterial infection of the throat. Some of the symptoms which usually accompany a sore throat when it is caused by a bacterial infection are:
- Red throat, sometimes with white patches on it
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- A sudden fever (which usually peaks on the second day)
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal taste
Because it is caused by bacteria, strep throat and other bacterial infections which cause a sore throat are treated with antibiotics. If you believe you have a bacterial infection, see a doctor to obtain a prescription for antibiotics and make sure to take them according to the doctor’s instructions even if your symptoms go away. Drinking plenty of fluids, gargling with salt water, using a humidifier and sucking on throat lozenges can also help relieve a sore throat caused by bacteria.
In some cases, environmental factors are the cause of a sore throat. The following are some possible ways that air quality can cause a sore throat:
- Pollution: When outdoor or indoor air becomes polluted by foreign contaminants, such as chemicals, it can lead to a sore throat. This is especially true for those who live or work in areas with poor air quality due to pollution.
- Second-hand smoke: This is a possible cause of a sore throat for smokers and non-smokers. Just being around air that is heavy with cigarette smoke may lead to a sore throat. It’s best to avoid second-hand smoke to reduce the risk of getting a sore throat.
- Dry air: Indoor air can become dry, which can make the throat feel rough and scratchy. This is especially true during the winter when homes are heated. Those who live in a home with dry air may experience an especially sore throat right when they wake up in the morning. To avoid having a sore throat due to dry air, consider using a humidifier during the winter.
Many people get sore throats due to their allergies. The sore throat is usually a response to something which the person can breathe in through the air in their vicinity. The postnasal drip caused by these allergies further irritates and inflames the throat. Examples of these types of allergies include:
- Pet dander
It is possible to strain your throat muscles, just like you can strain muscles in your legs, arms and other parts of the body. This could be caused by overuse of your throat muscles to sing or speak loudly or for extended periods of time. A sore throat due to muscle strain may also be characterized by a hoarse voice.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
This condition, also known as GERD, is a disorder of the digestive system in which the contents of the stomach (including stomach acid) are backed up into the esophagus. This usually causes a sore throat, along with other symptoms such as heartburn, the sensation of a lump in the throat and a hoarse voice.
Although it is much rarer than other potential causes mentioned here, a sore throat may be caused by a tumor growing in the throat, the voice box or the tongue. This is a serious matter which requires immediate medical attention. Other symptoms which may accompany a sore throat caused by a tumor are a lump in the neck, difficulty swallowing, a hoarse voice, noisy breathing or blood in the saliva.
In most cases, a sore throat is nothing to worry about; most are caused by viruses and are relatively harmless. However, if you believe that something other than a viral infection may be causing your sore throat, see a doctor to find out what is causing this symptom and how to treat the underlying condition.