Viruses are the most common cause of a sore throat, and many medical conditions can cause a sore throat, from infections to allergies to acid reflux and even Tumors.

Pain is just one of the symptoms of what is commonly referred to as a sore throat. Other symptoms include a scratchy throat or difficulty swallowing.

Here’s what we need to know about the health conditions that cause sore throats, what the risk factors are, and how to prevent them.

Risk factors

Anyone can have a sore throat. However, you may be more likely to suffer from a sore throat if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Smoke
  • snoring
  • certain medications
  • acid reflux

How to prevent a sore throat

We cannot completely control viruses, allergies, or other causes of sore throats. But you can try the following to prevent a sore throat:

  • Practice proper hand washing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or mouth.
  • Avoid sharing food, wine glasses, or eating utensils with others.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid exposure to smoke.

If you have symptoms of strep throat, your doctor may test you for strep throat.

Please let us know if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Coughing up blood in saliva or sputum
  • Drowning, which is usually more common in young children than adults
  • Dehydration
  • Joint swelling or pain
  • rash

10 possible causes of a sore throat

Your sore throat will most likely go away within a few days without any real irritation, but if it persists, you could be in trouble. Here are ten reasons why you might have a sore throat.

Viral infection

Viruses are one of the most common causes of sore throats, says Alan Mensch, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs and medical director at Plainview Hospital in upstate New York:

Typically, a sore throat is a symptom of a cold or flu. But the same viruses that cause mononucleosis, measles, chickenpox, and vomiting (known for its barking cough in children) can also cause a sore throat. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can cause a sore throat.

  • To treat a sore throat caused by a virus, try some of the following:
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Anvil (ibuprofen).
  • Drink enough.
  • Use a humidifier or steamer to relieve respiratory symptoms

Most viral infections clear up within a week, except mononucleosis, which can last weeks or months

Wash your hands frequently to prevent viral infection. Do not get too close to a sick person and cover coughs and sneezes.

Sore throat

In addition to viruses, bacteria are also common causes of sore throats, says Kathleen Tibbetts, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. A sore throat (caused by streptococcal bacteria) is a common cause, especially in children. Since it is not a viral infection, there is no possibility of immunity. After antibacterial drug treatment, the condition can be quickly brought under control.

In addition to a sore throat, other symptoms of strep throat can include:

  • Fever
  • cold
  • red spots or white spots on your tonsils
  • swollen lymph nodes

A bacterial throat test will confirm whether you have an infection. If you have a sore throat, treatment is necessary.

“We are concerned about late complications from streptococci,” said Dr. Person. This can include damage to the kidneys and heart valves.

Antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin can often relieve strep throat and other bacterial infections.


Tonsillitis is inflammation and swelling of the tonsils. A viral or more commonly bacterial infection often causes tonsillitis.

Tonsils are two growths in the throat that form the front line of the body’s immune system. They look for bacteria to invade your body, often leading to infections.

Tonsillitis can cause a sore throat as well as other symptoms such as:

  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • White or yellow spots on your tonsils
  • Fever
  • cold
  • Headache
  • Ear pain
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Jaw or sore throat

In severe cases, the tonsils can become so large that they block the nasal passages. In this case, breathing, swallowing and sleeping problems may occur.


Approximately 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergic reactions. An allergic reaction occurs when your body reacts excessively to a specific foreign invader, such as:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Animal hair
  • Mold

These invaders cause a range of symptoms, such as a sore throat. Other allergy symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • sneeze
  • itching

In addition, sore throats caused by allergies can be made worse by postnasal infusion. Postnasal drip occurs when mucus, normally produced by the glands in the nose, begins to build up. The mucus then runs down the throat.

Some people confuse allergic sore throats with viral and bacterial sores. However, there are ways to tell them apart.

“Allergies last longer and don’t cause a fever,” explains Dr. Tibbetts. “You may have itchy eyes and a runny nose.”

Many allergic sore throats also only occur at certain times of the year, such as fall or spring.


Irritation is not the same as allergy. But they also react to certain external factors, such as air pollution or cleaning products.

“The mechanism of an allergy is an immune response,” explains Dr. Tibbetts. “Irritation is not an immune reaction. It’s just tissue irritation – and we’re seeing more and more irritation in urban areas as people are exposed to pollution.”

Exposure to certain irritants can cause long-term pain in the throat. So try to avoid them if possible.

Dry air

Both humidity and temperature affect the mucous membranes around your throat. Hot, dry air (e.g. in heated buildings) can cause discomfort. Air conditioning in the summer can have a similarly painful effect on your throat. Regardless, the symptoms tend to get worse early in the morning.

“During the winter months, the heater is often on, so you breathe in dry air all night long,” said Dr. Tibbetts. “Use a humidifier in your room at night while you sleep.”

You can also heat a pot of water and breathe in the soothing steam.

Muscle strain

Studies have found that aerobics trainers and teachers commonly report sore throats. Screaming and yelling can damage your throat, but so can speaking.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

You may not think that a sore throat is a common symptom of acid reflux. Still, this can be the case, especially if the reflux is chronic, as in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a digestive disorder. Finally, the throat is part of the digestive system.

“Stomach acid enters the esophagus and sometimes the throat,” explains Dr. Tibbetts. “Often people have other associated symptoms, such as indigestion.”

Symptoms may worsen after a large meal. In addition to a sore throat, symptoms of GERD can include:

  • heartburn
  • acid reflux
  • Chest pain
  • nausea
  • strong cough

There are many over-the-counter and prescription medications available to combat GERD. But you can also control the condition by controlling your weight and eating foods low in fat and acid.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Thanks to highly effective treatments, the number of new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the United States has steadily declined since the 1980s.

Even people who are HIV-positive are unlikely to actually develop the disease. That’s what it says. However, a sore throat sometimes also occurs in the group of HIV symptoms.

Some people with HIV develop flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after infection. In addition to a sore throat, the first symptoms of HIV may include:

  • Fever
  • cold
  • rash
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers

HIV-positive people may develop sore throats due to secondary infections such as oral thrush or cytomegalovirus (CMV).


Throat cancer doesn’t have to be at the top of your list of worries when you have a sore throat, but it can happen.

“All parts of the throat can be affected, from the upper part to the tonsil area, the back of the tongue, the larynx and the upper esophagus,” explains Dr. Tibbetts.

  • In addition to a sore throat, tumors can also cause other symptoms, such as:
  • lump
  • difficult to swallow
  • Ear pain

Sore throats caused by tumors may also persist, Dr. Tibbetts: “A viral or bacterial sore throat should improve within a few days to weeks, but if it persists for weeks to months, that’s concerning.”

If you experience any of these warning signs, talk to your doctor immediately.


While most sore throats are caused by viral infections such as cold or flu, there are several other causes that can cause sore throats.

If symptoms do not improve or worsen within a few days, talk to your doctor. Less common causes of sore throat may require treatment.

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Last Update: 19 April 2024