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Potential Causes For Your Sore Throat (Plus Symptoms For Each)

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Medically Reviewed by Patty Weasler, RN

A sore throat is a common symptom for many illnesses. Dealing with a sore throat is annoying and painful and can often last up to a couple of weeks. The best way to get rid of a sore throat is to determine the root cause. This particular symptom is often associated with three types of illnesses: Viral infections, bacterial infections and irritants.

To help you determine the cause of your sore throat, we’ve compiled this list of possible causes. Each item identifies a possible cause, the type of illness and common symptoms associated with each.

Possible Causes

Common Cold

Type: Viral Infection

The common cold is the most popular cause of a sore throat. The symptom usually presents itself abruptly alongside the other symptoms listed below. Most people can identify when they’re suffering from a cold.

Symptoms: Coughing, sneezing, muscle and joint aches and pains, fatigue, clear, runny nose.


Type: Viral Infection

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box and usually caused by other viruses, such as colds. This illness is temporary and will usually subside within a week or two.

Symptoms: In addition to a sore throat, other symptoms of laryngitis include a hoarse, raspy voice, loss of voice and the need to cough or clear your throat. If you are experiencing severe pain, problems swallowing, a lump in your neck or if you’re coughing up blood, you should seek medical attention immediately.


Type: Viral Infection

Mononucleosis (more commonly known as mono) is called “the kissing disease” because it’s easily passed from one person to another via saliva. This illness usually goes away after several weeks and, in most cases, does not require medical attention.

Symptoms: High fever, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue.

Strep Throat 

Type: Bacterial Infection

Strep throat is often known for causing a painful sore throat. This illness affects the back of the throat and the tonsils and is known to cause a sudden and severe sore throat.

Symptoms: In addition to a sore throat, individuals suffering from strep throat will experience a fever, pain when swallowing, white patches on the tonsils, and swollen tonsils and lymph nodes, says the CDC.


Type: Viral or Bacterial Infection

Tonsillitis is an inflammation or infection of the tonsils. It can also affect the adenoids. Tonsillitis will usually go away on its own without treatment from a doctor. Home treatments include gargling with salt water, taking non-prescription pain medication, and drinking hot liquids such as tea or hot lemon water.

Symptoms: A sore throat is the most common symptom of tonsillitis. Other symptoms include red/swollen tonsils, fever, nasal congestion, and swollen lymph nodes. Not all symptoms are present in all cases.


Type: Bacterial Infection

Epiglottitis is inflammation of the epiglottis – the leaf-shaped lid of tissue found over the opening to the large breathing tube leading to the lungs. This illness usually begins suddenly and can be life-threatening because it can block the trachea and prevent breathing. Thankfully, because of the H. influenza type B (Hib) vaccine epiglottitis is now very uncommon. However, if you have the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Symptoms: Difficult or noisy breathing, drooling or difficulty swallowing, high fever, a muffled voice, difficulty lying down.

Sexually Transmitted Disease

Type: Bacterial Infection

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) can, in rare cases, cause a sore throat. If you have engaged in unprotected sex, you may want to see a doctor to determine if you’ve contracted an STD.

Symptoms: The symptoms for STDs vary depending on the particular infection.


Type: Bacterial Infection

Uvulitis is an inflammation of the uvula. Your uvula is the small piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of your throat when you open your mouth. Uvulitis can usually be treated with at-home sore throat remedies (honey, tea, popsicles, gargling with salt water etc).

Symptoms: Other symptoms include swelling and redness of the uvula.

Stomach Acid 

Type: Irritant

Stomach acid that backs up into the throat can be the cause of your sore throat. This can be a symptom of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).

Symptoms: Heartburn, an acid taste in the mouth and a cough.


Type: Irritant

Allergies are sometimes associated with a sore throat. Individuals tend to breathe through the mouth instead of the nose when coping with allergies (often because the nose is stuffed up). Breathing through your mouth when you have allergies (especially when you’re sleeping) can cause a sore throat. Generally, home treatments (tea, popsicles etc) will be efficient in treating sore throats caused by allergies.

Symptoms: Symptoms of allergies vary greatly depending on the type. Research the symptoms to find out which (if any) allergy you have.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Type: Irritant

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition that causes extreme tiredness. Those suffering from this illness will find it difficult to carry out daily tasks because the fatigue is so severe. Individuals will experience incredible tiredness even when physical exertion is at play and will find that hours of rest will not relieve the fatigue.

Symptoms: In addition to a sore throat and fatigue, individuals will experience sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and tender glands in the armpits or neck area.

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Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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