A sore throat, also called pharyngitis, is one of the most common reasons that people seek medical attention. This condition can be caused by several factors, such as a virus, bacteria, allergies, or irritants. In most cases, germs cause a sore throat, which means this is typically a contagious condition. Possible treatment options may include pain medications, throat lozenges, and decongestants.
What Is a Sore Throat?A sore throat is a frequent symptom of the common cold or other upper respiratory infections. A sore throat often makes it painful to swallow. It can also make the throat feel dry and scratchy.
A sore throat is one of the most common reasons that people go to their healthcare provider. This condition is known medically as pharyngitis. Acute pharyngitis is a sore throat that has lasted for a brief period of time. Chronic pharyngitis is the diagnosis for a sore throat is long-lasting or recurrent.
Causes and SymptomsThe two most common reasons for a sore throat are an infection with either a virus (the most common) or bacteria. Strep throat is the most common bacterial cause of a sore throat. It is caused by group A streptococcus (GAS, Streptococcus pyogenes). Up to 30 percent of children and 10 percent of adults who seek medical treatment for a sore throat are diagnosed with strep throat.
Strep throat symptoms usually begin suddenly and can include:
- A fever above 101ºF (38.3ºC)
- Red and enlarged tonsils
- Tender or swollen lymph glands in the neck
- No signs of a viral infection (such as a cough, runny nose, or irritation of the eyes).
Viruses are thought to cause more than 50 percent of throat infections. The most common viruses to cause a sore throat are the same ones that cause upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu. This is why it is common for a person with a sore throat to also have a cough, runny nose, nasal congestion, hoarseness, and/or redness or irritation of the eyes (pink eye).
Other, less-common viral causes of a sore throat include Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of mononucleosis) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
There are other reasons someone may get a sore throat. A few of these include:
- Dry air
- Irritants, including tobacco smoke.