A sore throat is a painful, sore, itchy or irritating feeling in your throat that makes swallowing and talking uncomfortable. Common causes of a sore throat include viral infections (such as a common cold), bacterial infections (such as strep throat) or dry air. A sore throat caused by a virus should resolve on its own within a few days. Bacteria causing strep throat may require antibiotics to prevent complications.
Viruses are the cause of most sore throats. Less often, sore throats can be caused by bacteria. A sore throat can also be caused by:
- You may have a sore throat if you have allergies to dust, pollen, and mould. You may also get a sore throat if you are exposed to indoor smoke from firewood or tobacco or outdoor smoke from car exhaust or burning of waste.
- Your sore throat may be due to long exposure to a dry air that makes your throat feel dry and itchy.
- Eating spicy meals, chewing tobacco, and drinking alcohol may also cause you to have a sore throat.
- You can get a sore throat from shouting, yelling, singing, or talking loudly for a long time without a break.
- You can get a sore throat if you have a disease that causes the acid in your stomach to go back up to your throat. This may burn your throat and cause a sore throat.
- You can also get a sore throat caused by fungi (oral thrush) if you have an HIV infection.
Most sore throats should go away on their own with home treatment, usually within 5–10 days. You should see a healthcare provider:
- When your sore throat is severe and does not go away after two weeks or fever persists after three days.
- If you have difficulty breathing, swallowing or opening your mouth.
- If you notice a lump in your neck under your jaw.
- When you notice blood in your saliva.
- When toy have a dry and harsh voice that lasts for more than two weeks.
You can reduce your chances of getting a sore throat by avoiding anyone with a cold or cough, practising personal hygiene (like handwashing), eating a diet that supports your immunity and by coughing into your bent elbow. Practising self-care can also help you reduce the severity and frequency of the symptom.
Most sore throats can be managed at home.
- You can use lozenges (e.g. strepsils, dequadin or pectol) to relieve the pain and discomfort.
- Get plenty of rest to give your immune system a chance to fight the infection.
- Gargle with a salt and water mixture. Put warm water in a cup and add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Drink warm water and fluids that feel soothing to your throat. You can try warm tea with honey or warm water with lemon. Do not give honey to children younger than one year old.
- You can humidify your throat by sitting in a bath of warm water. You can also do this by covering your head with a blanket over a bucket of warm water.
- Avoid shouting, yelling, or singing until your throat feels better.
- Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics for you if your sore throat is caused by bacteria.
- Your healthcare provider may also prescribe paracetamol to help you get relief from the pain.
Most sore throat takes a week or two to heal. Ensure you clean your teeth regularly, drink lots of warm fluids and suck on a lozenge as needed. There are usually no long-term complications from a sore throat.