Healthy Living

What Causes a Sore Throat?

What Causes a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is simply defined as pain, irritation or itchiness of the throat. A person having a sore throat may have difficulty swallowing foods and liquids. In addition, the pain may be exacerbated when you try to swallow.


A sore throat can affect both children and adults. Symptoms of sore throat include pain, dry throat, white patches (pus) in the tonsils, hoarse voice, swollen tonsils and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. These symptoms vary depending on the cause.


Causes of Sore Throat


Viral Infections

Most cases of sore throats are due to viral infections. These infections also cause influenza or the common cold. Other types of viral infections include measles, chickenpox, croup and mononucleosis.


Bacterial Infections

Various bacterial infections can lead to a sore throat. Streptococcus pyogenes, specifically group A streptococcus, is the most common cause. Group A streptococcus is the cause of strep throat. Other bacterial infections that can cause strep throat are whooping cough and diphtheria.


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a digestive condition that happens when the stomach acid goes up into the esophagus. It causes symptoms such as sore throat, nausea, heartburn, regurgitation of contents of the stomach and hoarseness.



Allergies to dust, pollen, molds, pet dander and other irritants can cause a sore throat. It may further be exacerbated by a postnasal drip that can inflame and irritate the throat. Postnasal drip is when the excess mucus mounts up in the back of the throat.



Dry air, heated indoor areas, makes the throat feel scratchy and rough. This often happens in the morning upon waking up. Breathing through the mouth rather than through the nose can also cause a sore throat.



Exposure to outdoor air pollution can produce sore throat. In addition, indoor pollution such as smoking or second hand smoke can lead to chronic sore throat.


Muscle Strain

Yelling, or talking loudly for a prolonged period without rest can strain the muscles in the throat. Muscle strain will then lead to throat irritation that will produce a sore throat.


HIV Infection

Sore throat and other flu-like symptoms may appear when someone is infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Chronic and recurring sore throats may also be experienced with an HIV positive individual due to a secondary infection like a fungal infection and cytomegalovirus.



Cancer of the tongue, throat or larynx (voice box) can cause sore throat. Hoarseness, noisy breathing, blood in saliva, difficulty swallowing and a lump in the neck are some of the other symptoms.


When to See a Doctor

Most of the time, sore throats are not a cause of concern and do not require medical attention. But, if the sore throat lasts for more than a week, you need to see a doctor. Also, see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Joint pain
  • Earache
  • Blood mucus
  • Hoarseness which lasts for more than two weeks
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Rash
  • Lump in the throat