Why Do I Have a Sore Throat?

Sore throats are a common ailment, especially this time of year. Many things, such as allergies and sinus infections, can cause this uncomfortable symptom. Increasing your liquid intake, gargling with warm salt water, and over-the-counter pain relievers can usually help, but in general we suggest seeing your ENT if you have a sore throat lasting more than five to seven days. Finding out the root cause is vital for treating your sore throat effectively. Some common causes include the following:


Sore throats commonly accompany viral infections, such as the flu, colds, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and croup. One viral infection, mononucleosis (“mono”), takes much more than a week to heal. This virus causes a massive enlargement of the tonsils and white patches on their surface. Other symptoms include swollen glands, fever, chills and headache. Mono is identifiable by a severe sore throat that can last from one to four weeks, often with severe breathing difficulties. Mono also causes extreme lethargy and fatigue that can last in excess of six weeks, and also can affect the liver, leading to jaundice-yellow eyes and skin.


Strep throat is caused by a certain type of streptococcus bacteria. This infection, if left untreated, can lead to damaged heart valves (rheumatic fever) or kidneys (nephritis), cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis or ear infections. Strep throat symptoms can include a fever greater than 101°F, white patches on the throat, and swollen or tender lymph nodes on the neck. Children often report a headache and stomach pain.

Tonsillitis is an infection of the lymphatic tissues on each side of the back of the throat. Nasal or sinus infections can also cause sore throats, as mucus from the nose drains into the throat and carries the infection with it.

Most dangerous is an infection called epiglottitis, which infects a part of the larynx and can cause the airway to close as the area swells. Epiglottitis is an emergency condition that requires prompt attention from a medical professional. It can be suspected when swallowing is very painful (enough to cause drooling), if speech is muffled, and if breathing becomes difficult. Epiglottitis may not be the obvious diagnosis just by looking in the mouth.

Other Causes.

Irritation caused by dry heat, a chronic stuffy nose, pollutants, chemicals or straining your voice can cause a sore throat. Certain allergies to pollens, molds, cat and dog dander and house dust are all common causes. Acid reflux can cause a sore throat upon waking. Tumors of the throat, tongue or larynx can cause soreness with pain radiating to the ear and/or difficulty swallowing. Other symptoms to look for include hoarseness, loud breathing, a lump in the neck, unexplained weight loss or spitting up blood in either saliva or phlegm.


If your sore throat is severe, lasts longer than five to seven days, and is not associated with known allergies, be sure to come see our doctors at Alexandria Otolaryngology Associates. After diagnosing the cause of the pain, your doctor will take the best course of action to make your sore throat history.