Sore Throat : A Complete Guide About Causes and Treatments

Sore throat causes and treatments

A sore throat is a very common symptom experienced by most people intermittently throughout their lives. It affects all age groups and has some very common, self limiting causes as well as some potentially very dangerous causes. Let’s get to the bottom of the common symptoms experienced with a sore throat, the likely causes of a sore throat, what not to miss, simple remedies and treatments and when it’s most important to seek medical advice.

Scratchy throat and sore throat

A dry, scratchy or painful throat, particularly with swallowing, is a common symptom of the common cold and influenza. Normally the feeling is associated with other symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection such as:

  • fever, chills, hot and cold spells
  • sneezing or a runny, blocked or stuffy nose
  • cough
  • body aches and pains
  • headache
  • fatigue and tiredness
  • a hoarse voice
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • trouble swallowing a loss of appetite

Symptoms are generally related to the degree of infection of the upper respiratory tract:

Pharyngitis: the mouth and upper throat area
Tonsillitis: swelling, pain and redness of the tonsils (the area at the back of the mouth)
Laryngitis: swelling and irritation of the voice box

Sore Throat Causes

The majority of sore throats, usually presenting as a pharyngitis are causes by a virus.

The common cold, flu and other viruses

Viral infections of the upper throat are normally always associated with other symptoms such as runny nose, hoarseness of voice and cough. The viruses involved can include:

  • the common cold
  • rhinovirus
  • influenza
  • croup

Some of the more serious viral infections include:

  • Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV – Glandular Fever)
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Herpes Simplex
  • HIV

Bacterial causes including strep throat

Bacterial causes of sore throat often can develop suddenly with a short onset of fever and often don’t have an associated cough. Common and serious causes include:

  • Streptococcal bacteria
  • Chronic sinusitis (infection of the sinuses) with post nasal drip
  • Haemophilus influenza

Bacterial infections can be very severe leading to complications such as

  • acute epiglottis
  • quinsy (peritonsillar abcess)
  • pharyngeal abcess
  • infection of the heart or kidneys

Other common causes of sore throat

  • Fungal infection with candida (thrush is very common)
  • Acid reflux
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke (a good time to think about quitting smoking!)

Serious causes of sore throat can include:

  • Pain from other serious issues such as heart disease
  • Cancer of the upper respiratory area
  • Sexual transmitted infections such as gonhorrea, herpes simplex or syphillis
  • HIV

Sore throat medicine

How do we treat a sore throat? The most common viral causes of sore throat are self limiting – they will resolve over a week or so. As with a common cold or influenza, treating the symptoms to keep you comfortable during your period of illness is important. These treatments include:

  • Paracetemol, regularly every 6 hours for the sore throat, fever and aches and pains
  • Salt water gargles: a teaspoon of salt in warm water, gargle and spit out regularly
  • Rehydration solutions such as hydralyte: sip small amounts regulaly to keep hydrated.

Other sore throat remedies include:

  • Betadine Sore Throat Gargle
  • Strepsils Sore Throat Lozenges
  • Difflam Plus Sore Throat lozenges
  • Lemsip Max Cold & Flu drink

Make sure you read the instructions for these products carefully and seek instructions from your doctor or pharmacist. Take it easy with the sore throat lozenges. Excessive use can actually worsen your sore throat. Read our guides:

Cold and Flu Guide

How to Use Panadol Safely

common cold and flu treatments

When to see a doctor about your sore throat

It’s recommended to make contact with your general practitioner early in your illness so that they can guide and monitor your progress. This can be done conveniently through a telehealth consultation. If you are not improving, or the doctor has concerns about your symptoms, they will organize for a face to face examination and may take throat swabs or blood tests. You may also be prescribed antibiotics if there is concern about a potential bacterial infection. So make contact with your GP early so they can provide you the right advice. Medmate is always here to help with the express delivery of medications to your doorstep to keep you as comfortable as possible while you recover.


Dr Ganesh Naidoo

About the Author

Dr Ganesh Naidoo BSc(biomed), MBBS, FRACGP is an Australian General Practitioner. He has significant clinical experience in multiple regions of Australia and has a passion for health transformation to improve clinical outcomes for all patients.

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