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What Causes A Sore Throat?

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That scratchy, prickly feeling in your throat could be caused by many reasons. Sore throats are notorious for making us lose our appetite and making sleeping difficult. The medical term for this condition is pharyngitis, which literally means an inflammation of the pharynx (the medical term for the throat).

If you’ve ever wondered why you get sore throats every once in a while, or why you might have one right now then we might have the answers for you. Sore throats are usually mild and go away on their own. However, sometimes a sore throat could mean something more ominous.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sore Throat?

Recognising that you have a sore throat is fairly simple. We all have experience with it and we all know exactly how it feels. If you have any doubts, look out for these important signs and symptoms of a sore throat or visit your local pharmacist:

  • Scratchy, prickly feeling in the throat
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Cough
  • Changes in your voice
  • Fever
  • Red and inflamed tonsils
  • Symptoms of a cold or flu
  • Enlarged lymph nodes of the neck
  • Itchy feeling or pain in the ear

Causes of a Sore Throat

The infection in your throat is almost always caused by some sort of microorganism. It could either be a virus or bacteria. In most cases, viral infections of the throat are more common and they come with milder symptoms.

#1: Viral Sore Throat

Viruses that can cause a sore throat include the common cold, influenza virus, measles and chickenpox.

A viral infection of the throat should be suspected when the seasons are changing, or if other people around your house also have a sore throat. Usually, the common cold virus causes a sore throat and this is a self-limiting condition. In fact, most viral infections will get better on their own without specific medications. With this type of sore throat, simple throat sprays and lozenges to curb the pain should be enough to give relief.

Sometimes, viral infections need to be treated and checked by a doctor. Infectious mononucleosis (or simply mono) is one such example. This type of sore throat can be severe and should be treated accordingly.

Viral infections with rashes, like measles and chickenpox, will also require specific anti-viral treatment as indicated by your clinician.

#2: Bacterial Sore Throat

Bacterial sore throats are often more severe than viral infections. They can come with high-grade fever, inflamed and red tonsils and sometimes even enlarged lymph nodes. When your sore throat is particularly severe, a bacterium may be causing it.

Common species of bacteria that can cause a sore throat include streptococcus, staphylococcus, Haemophilus influenza etc.

The treatment for a bacterial sore throat is usually a course of antibiotics, possibly after throat swab culture reports have confirmed the cause. Adhering to the antibiotic treatment you’ve been prescribed is extremely important for an effective recovery.

#3: Dry Air

Sometimes the environment can also cause you to have a sore throat. Dry indoor air can be a common cause of a sore throat, especially if it is persistent and recurrent. People who sleep with their mouth open or suffer from sleep apnoea are at a greater risk of getting a sore throat from dry air.

Dry air can cause your throat to feel rough and painful. Using a humidifier in your room could help you sleep better and prevent a sore throat.

#4: Allergies

Hayfever is notorious for causing a runny nose, sneezes and sometimes a sore throat. Allergies to certain environmental causes like pollen, dust and even pet dander can cause you to have a sore throat.

Usually, this type of sore throat doesn’t come in isolation. You will also experience other symptoms of an allergy such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing and mucus running down the back of your throat (post-nasal drip).

Avoiding allergic triggers is key to preventing an allergic sore throat. If you have developed an allergy, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines, nasal decongestants and throat sprays as treatment.

#5: Smoking and Pollution

If you smoke or live in an environment where smoking is common (passive smoking), you may experience frequent sore throats. This type of sore throat isn’t caused by an infection; instead, irritants in cigarette smoke can cause a sore throat to develop.

Other irritants that can cause throat inflammation include alcohol and spicy foods.

#6: Aspiration of stomach juice

Some people have a condition called GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). GORD causes the reflux of acidic stomach contents into the oesophagus, and up into the throat. This can cause a sore throat because of the corrosive action of the stomach acid.

GORD needs to be properly investigated by a specialised doctor and proper treatment obtained.

#7: Injury or overuse of the voice box

If you’ve noticed your voice disappearing and a sore throat developing after you’ve had a fun night at a concert, the cause is not likely to be an infection, but overuse of the muscles. Muscle strain by yelling and shouting too much can cause a change in your voice and sometimes pain in the throat. This can mimic the symptoms of a sore throat even though the problem is actually in the voice box.

Long sleepless nights can also have the same effect on your voice and throat.

How Can You Reduce the Pain of a Sore Throat?

The main complaint of patients with a sore throat is the pain. It’s important to treat whatever is causing your sore throat but you can also get pain relief while the inflammation is being sorted. Using lozenges, throat spray, medicated throat rinses and drinking lots of water can help give you relief from a painful sore throat.


  1. Is Your Sore Throat a Cold, Strep Throat or Tonsillitis? WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/sore-throat-cold-strep-throat-tonsillitis#1
  2. Sore Throat 101. Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/sore-throat

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