Sore throat

A sore throat makes swallowing difficult and painful. When you have a sore throat, your throat often feels painful, dry, raspy and/or scratchy.

Sore throat is the main symptom of pharyngitis – inflammation of the back of the throat (pharynx). Sore throats usually clear up in a few days, even without treatment.

Symptoms

Sore throat symptoms may include:

  • pain;
  • a dry, scratchy feeling in the throat;
  • painful or difficult swallowing;
  • a hoarse voice; and
  • pain when talking.

Depending on the cause of your sore throat, you may also experience other symptoms such as:

  • cold and flu symptoms;
  • fever;
  • enlarged, inflamed tonsils (tonsillitis); and
  • swollen, tender lymph nodes (glands) in the neck.

Causes of sore throat

Infectious causes of sore throats include:

  • viral infections such as colds and flu;
  • bacterial infections (including group A streptococcal infection – strep throat); and
  • glandular fever (also known as mononucleosis and caused by infection with Epstein-Barr virus).

Untreated streptococcal throat infections can cause complications such as middle ear infection (otitis media) and, in certain high risk groups, rheumatic fever and inflammation of the kidneys.

Other causes of sore throat include:

  • allergic rhinitis (hay fever);
  • post-nasal drip (drainage of mucus secretions from the nose or sinuses down the back of the throat);
  • yelling or talking for a prolonged period (which can strain your throat muscles and lead to a hoarse voice and sore throat);
  • smoking; and
  • gastro-oesophageal reflux.

Tests and diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Depending on your history and physical examination findings, they may recommend tests including:

  • a throat swab (sample of secretions from the back of your throat which can be tested for bacterial and viral infections);
  • blood tests; or
  • allergy tests.

When should you seek medical advice?

You should seek medical advice if:

  • there are signs of oral thrush (white patches), especially if you are on inhaled corticosteroids or are a diabetic;
  • you have difficulty breathing or talking;
  • you have difficulty swallowing or are drooling (especially in children);
  • the sore throat is severe;
  • the sore throat has lasted for one or 2 weeks;
  • you have a condition that affects your immune system;
  • you are on medicines that suppress the immune system;
  • you have a high fever and general unwell feeling;
  • there is vomiting;
  • you have ear pain; or
  • your glands are very swollen and tender.
Last Reviewed: 8 April 2014
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References

1. Pharyngitis and/or tonsillitis (revised June 2010). In: eTG complete. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2014 Mar. http://online.tg.org.au/complete/ (accessed Mar 2014).
2. Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Clinical Practice Guidelines: Sore throat (updated 2 March 2014). http://www.rch.org.au/clinicalguide/guideline_index/Sore_Throat/ (accessed Mar 2014).
3. NHS Choices. Sore throat (updated 11 May 2012). http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sore-throat/pages/introduction.aspx (accessed Mar 2014).
4. MayoClinic.com. Sore throat (updated 7 May 2013). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sore-throat/basics/definition/con-20027360 (accessed Mar 2014).
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