Symptoms and Signs of Sore Throat

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 8/30/2021

Doctor's Notes on Sore Throat

Sore throat describes irritation of the structures of the throat, including the pharynx (the area of the throat behind the soft palate of the mouth), the tonsils, the larynx (the top part of the windpipe, or trachea), and rarely, the epiglottis (a flap in the throat that keeps food from going into the lungs). Causes of sore throats include viral or bacterial infections, smoking, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), post-nasal drip, oral thrush, breathing through the mouth, or serious illness such as some cancers or AIDS.

Depending on the cause, symptoms that may accompany a sore throat include

  • fever,
  • headache,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • feeling unwell (malaise),
  • pain with swallowing,
  • hoarse voice,
  • cough,
  • runny nose,
  • pus on the surface of the tonsils,
  • throat redness,
  • tender and swollen lymph nodes in the neck,
  • drooling or spitting (as swallowing becomes too painful),
  • difficulty breathing, or
  • vesicles (bubbles of fluid on a red base) in the mouth or throat.

What is the Treatment for a Sore Throat?

The treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. Sore throats caused by bacteria (such as strep throat) are usually treated with antibiotics, such as: 

Sore throats caused by viruses usually do not require antibiotics. Prescription corticosteroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone may help with the symptoms of a viral sore throat.

For either type of sore throat, there are home remedies that can help ease symptoms. Useful home remedies for a sore throat include:

  • Lozenges and cough drops to help relieve dryness (do not give lozenges or cough drops to young children as they may be a choking hazard)
  • Anesthetic throat sprays to help with pain relief
  • Tea with honey and lemon can be soothing
  • Drinking cold beverages or eating frozen desserts such as ice cream
  • Gargling with salt water can help clear the throat and loosen mucus
  • Drinking plenty of fluids helps you stay hydrated and thins mucus secretions
  • Using a humidifier can help keep the mouth and throat moist and reduce irritation 
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help ease pain and inflammation caused by a sore throat
  • Over-the-counter decongestants help shrink mucus membranes and relieve a runny nose or postnasal drip, which can irritate the throat

Must Read Articles:


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.