A sore throat is pain, itching or irritation in the throat which often worsens when you swallow. The most common cause of sore throat (pharyngitis) is a viral infection, such as a cold or flu. A sore throat caused by a virus heals by itself.
Inflammation of the throat (streptococcal infection), a type of sore throat that is less commonly caused by bacteria, requires treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications. Other less common causes of sore throat may require more complex treatments.
Inflammation of the throat, which is an infection due to streptococcal bacteria, is another cause of sore throat and tonsillitis. With strep throat, sore throat is often more severe and continues.
Tonsillitis is an inflammation or infection of the tonsils that is painful, a mass of tissue located behind the throat.
Symptoms of sore throat
Symptoms of sore throat can vary depending on what caused it. A sore throat can be felt:
It may be more painful when you swallow or speak. Your throat or tonsils may also look red.
Viral infection sore throat
The following steps can often help relieve sore throat:
- taking ibuprofen or paracetamol – paracetamol is better for children and for people who cannot use ibuprofen (note that children under 16 years of age should not take aspirin)
- drink lots of cold or warm liquids, and avoid very hot drinks
- eat cold, soft foods
- avoid smoking and smoky places
- gargle with home-made mouthwash from warm salt water
- suck throat lozenge, hard candy, ice cubes or ice candy – but don’t give a child something small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
It is often difficult to say whether a sore throat is caused by a virus or strep bacteria. In general, the main symptom of strep throat is a severe sore throat with difficulty swallowing. Other possible symptoms of inflammation are fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, white spots on the tonsils, and sometimes headaches. On the other hand, sneezing, runny nose, and stuffy nose are common symptoms of viral infection, including those that cause sore throats.
Viruses and bacteria that cause sore throats are transmitted from person to person through drops of moisture in the air (from sneezing or coughing) or in the hands of someone who is infected. Diseases can spread through schools and child care centers. One challenge for prevention is that people are often the most contagious before they even begin to have symptoms. Washing hands, covering up coughing and sneezing with tissue or the upper arm (not the hand), cleaning toys, and not sharing drinking cups are the best ways to try to prevent the spread of the disease.