What’s Causing Your Sore Throat?

November 3, 2010

A sore throat is a miserable thing to have, and is unfortunately common during winter. There are various sore throat treatments, but it helps to know what type of sore throat you have, and what may have caused it so you can prevent having a sore throat recur.

Often a sore throat is a symptom of another illness, such as a sinus infection that causes post nasal drip or a cold. In these cases it is more helpful to treat the illness causing sore throat, although the sore throat treatments listed below may help relieve the discomfort.

A sore throat which is not caused by another illness is an infection of some part of the back of your mouth/throat (there are specific names depending on if it’s tonsils (tonsillitis), etc., but most people refer to it in the general sense).


Most sore throats are viral, which means that you have to take care of yourself in order to get better. This means supporting your immune system while it does it’s thing, and resting and drinking lots of fluids (warm ones work best for sore throats).

A bacterial infection of the throat is more common in children than in adults, and is almost always caused by the bacteria Streptococcus (Strep Throat). Doctors can test for strep throat in their offices, and can treat it with antibiotics.

Less commonly, a sore throat is caused by a compromised immune system (due to treatments like chemotherapy, for example) which leads to a fungal infection such as thrush (look for patches of white). For more on fungal infections, Click Here.

Symptoms of a Sore Throat:

  • A Quick Onset of Symptoms
  • Pain/Scratchiness
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Swollen Glands (you can feel these if you put your fingers sort of under your jaw)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • A Rash (caused by toxins the bacteria released–more common in young adults, and usually an indicator of Arcanobacterium Haemolyticum rather than Strep Throat)

These Sore Throat Symptoms more often accompany it when cause by another illness (like a cold):

  • Malaise/Achiness
  • Hoarseness
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea (can also be caused by antibiotics. Try probiotics to replenish your stomach bacteria).

Helpful sore throat treatments include gargling with salt water several times a day, sucking on hard candy, sitting in a steam room (or a hot shower) or having a humidifier going, and rinsing your sinuses if you have post nasal drip aggravating your sore throat. Note that many over-the-counter sore throat treatments (like lozenges) have certain risks and side-effects, including risk of dependency and raising your blood pressure. Always carefully read packaging before use, and consult a doctor if you have questions.

If the pathogen causing the infection is not eradicated, you may suffer from chronic sore throats. The person (or animal) passing you the pathogen may be a carrier of it but not have any symptoms themselves, so if you begin to suffer repeated sore throats have everyone in your house tested.

You’re more likely to get a sore throat if you tend to breath through your mouth, or if you do not properly follow general cold & flu prevention (washing hands frequently, covering your mouth, avoiding sick people).

Complications of having a sore throat include the infection spreading (turning into rheumatic fever and affecting, possibly damaging joints and heart valves), and being unable to breathe or swallow (rather than just finding it painful).

If the front of your neck is tender, or if it lasts more than 2 week with treatment, it may be a sign of a more serious illness and you should seek medical assistance immediately.

What sore throat treatment works best for you? What do you do when you feel a sore throat (or cold) coming on?

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