A sore throat is pain, scratchiness, or irritation of the throat that often worsens when you swallow. A sore throat is the primary symptom of pharyngitis — inflammation of the throat (pharynx). But the terms “sore throat” and “pharyngitis” are often used interchangeably.
Several conditions can cause a sore throat, such as a viral infection, a bacterial infection, or injury from irritants.
The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. A sore throat caused by a virus resolves on its own with at-home care.
Strep throat (streptococcal infection), another common type of sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection. A strep throat requires additional treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications and spreading of the bacteria.
A sore throat that last longer than a week is often caused by irritants, such as:
- Consistent exposure to low humidity (such as in room or apartment)
- Nasal drainage down the back of the throat (postnasal drip)
- Breathing through the mouth when you have allergies or a stuffy nose
- An injury to the back of the throat, such as a cut or puncture
- Chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that causes extreme tiredness
Treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. Only bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Home remedies can be used to obtain relief from most sore throats caused by viruses or other irritants. These remedies include:
- Gargle with warm salt water to help relieve swelling and discomfort (once each hour with 1 tsp of salt dissolved in 8 fl oz of warm water)
- Drink plenty of fluids, which help thin secretions and soothe an irritated throat (especially hot fluids, such as tea or soup)
- Use a vaporizer or humidifier in your bedroom
- Do not smoke or use tobacco products and avoid secondhand smoke
- Use nonprescription throat lozenges
Bacterial infections can, and should be, treated with antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider. If you believe a bacterial infection is the cause of your sore throat, or if you are unsure of the cause, make an appointment to be seen by a doctor so they can determine the best course of treatment.
Student Health Center
Darnall Hall Ground Floor
To make an appt: (202) 687-2200
After hours clinician on-call: (202) 444-7243