Sore Throat: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Home Remedies

Sore Throat: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Home Remedies
Photo source: Getty images

Sore throat, or throat pain, is a fairly common problem in both children and adults. It has a variety of causes: viral or bacterial, accidental or another disease. Sometimes, home remedies are not enough.

Sore throat is a fairly common problem that affects every age group. In childhood, it occurs more often. Then the causes are mainly infections with viruses, lessoften with bacteria.

However, behind this pain sometimes other problems are hidden.

Throat pain can be acute, i.e. it arises suddenly, lasts for a few days and then subsides. In other cases, it persists for a long time, i.e. as chronic pain.

Then it is possible that its origin will have a more serious basis.

The throat

The throat, as part of the respiratory and digestive system, is the place where the external environment comes into contact with the human body.

We breathe and take in food or liquids through the mouth.

Along with the skin, this part of the body is under constant pressure from the outside world. It is exposed to the risk of penetration of foreign pathogens into the body.

In short:

The throat divides into multiple sections. Partly it falls under the upper respiratory tract and partly under the oral cavity.

Thease parts are:

  • pharynx which is further divided into
    • nasopharynx - pars nasalis pharyngis
    • oropharynx - pars oralis pharyngis
    • laryngopharynx - pars laryngea pharyngis
  • larynx
    • epiglottis - borders the entrance to the larynx and lower respiratory tract
    • vocal cords
  • lymphoid tissue
    • tonsils - tonsilla palatina
    • tonsilla lingualis - the lingual tonsils can be found inside the oral cavity at the root of the tongue

Sore throat and associated issues

Pain radiating to the ear or tongue may stem from a problem in the throat.

Overall, a sore throat makes swallowing worse. In this case, there is a risk for lack of appetite, refusal of liquids and food, which can lead to dehydration or malnutrition.

Other times, talking or even cervical spine mobility may present difficulties.

Symptoms include:

A man has sore throat - worsened by drinking water
A sore throat can also be aggravated by simply drinking water. Photo: Getty images
  • a scratchy sensation
  • a burning sensation
  • irritation
  • sensation of the throat drying up
  • sensation of having a foreign body in the throat
  • cough
  • straining and gagging to vomit
  • body temperature rises to fever
  • sweating
  • chills, shivering
  • fatigue
  • whole body pain
  • hoarse voice
  • difficulty breathing, risk in young children with laryngitis or epiglottitis
  • nausea
  • vomiting

On the other hand, in some cases, swallowing will alleviate it. We drink water more often to relieve the pain.

The main causes of issues

The pain in the throat may be of infectious or non-infectious origin. It occurs because of talking for a longer period of time, singing, shouting, dry air. We feel throat pain after swallowing a tiny bone, but also as an accompanying symptom of a serious illness.

Learn more: Effects of air conditioning on our health

Possible origins of pain:

  1. injury - trauma
  2. inflammation
  3. tumour
  4. other causes

Injury as a cause of throat pain

Among the mechanism of injury, one thinks mainly of a foreign body. Another form is, for example, a chemical burn.

A complication is perforation (piercing through) of the swallowing parts or respiratory tract and penetration of the contents into the chest cavity.

The differential diagnosis is based on anamnesis, i.e. history taking. The patient indicates the origin of the trouble, i.e. the swallowing of a foreign body or ingestion of a chemical substance (accidentally or intentionally). Subsequently, further diagnosis or treatment is chosen.

If it is a foreign body, the first thing to go is an X-ray examination. This serves to determine the momentary localization. And this is also with the help of a contrast agent (iodine or barium slurry).

A common foreign body in the neck is a pice of bone.

Endoscopy may be helpful at the next stage. If the foreign body is stuck in the deeper parts, the procedure is performed under general anaesthesia.

Respiratory and digestive tract poisoning is severe. Complications are mainly scarring and stenosis, i.e. narrowing of the burned parts.

In the acute phase, it is important to identify the type of chemical and dilute the concentrated substance.

Never induce vomiting.
The chemical will burn the mucous membrane again.

A wide spectrum antibiotics are used in the treatment. The reason for this is the prevention of infection of the damaged mucosa with microorganisms. For pain relief analgesics, that is, drugs for pain relief.

Inflammation as a cause of throat pain

Inflammatory diseases are among the most common causes of this pain. In the overwhelming majority it is a viral inflammation. Bacterial inflammation occurs as a secondary infection, or superinfection.

Primary, primary bacterial infection is less common.

Adults succumb to the common cold, cold or flu 2-4 times a year. 
In children it is at a higher rate, namely 6 - 10 times.
Most cases are pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx) or tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils).
Learn more: Cold, hay fever or flu?

In children, the inflamed parts are affected to a greater extent: 

  • inflammation of the back of the throat - pharyngitis
  • inflammation of the tonsils - tonsillitis
    • commonest form: inflammation of the palatine tonsils - tonsilla palatina
  • tonsillopharyngitis - the inflammation includes both the tonsils and other parts of the throat

The infection may have a viral or bacterial agent.

Mycotic infections also occur when the body is weakened, as is the case after treatment with antibiotics or in immune disorders. The yeast Candida Albicans is often behind the problem. 


  • flu viruses
  • paramyxoviruses
  • coronaviruses
  • picornaviruses
  • adenoviruses
  • Respiratory syncytial viruses 
  • rhinoviruses
  • Coxsackie and echoviruses
  • Morbillivirus
  • herpes viruses
    • EBV, or Epstein–Barr virus, the cause of infectious mononucleosis
    • CMV - cytomegalovirus - infectious mononucleosis syndrome - resembles mononucleosis


  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophillus influenzae
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Arcanobacterium haemolyticum

Table: the most common inflammatory diseases of the upper respiratory tract

Name Description
Tonsillitis There are several subtypes:
  • A. catarrhalis - tonsillopharyngitis, inflammation of the tonsils and the back of the throat
  • A. lacunaris - purulent streptococcal tonsillitisa
    • the most common form
    • formation of yellow coatings
  • A. folliccularis - rarer form
  • A. vesiculosa - also known as herpangina
    • formation of small boils
    • similar to aphthae
  • A. pseudomembranacea - with grey-yellow lining
  • A. ulceromembranacea - a deep ulcer and a greyish-yellow coating of a greasy nature
  • A. gangraenosa - the tonsil is necrotic, i.e. dies off
    • mostly in diabetes, leukaemia and other serious diseases
  • Viral origin: influenza, herpes virus, coxsackie - herpangina, EBV
  • Bacteria: 90% Streptococcus pyogenes, staphylococcus, pneumococcus, haemophilus
  • Mycosis: mainly as a complication of immune disorders (including AIDS), immunosuppression, diabetes or chronic tonsillitis
Scarlet fever
  • inflammation is most often caused by streptococcus (S. pyogenes A) - a bacterium
  • inflammation of the tonsils
  • strawberry (raspberry) tongue
  • with skin rash 12 - 24 hours after fever
    • markedly reddened
    • even bloody
    • itches
  • day 2 - 4 skin peeling
  • serious infectious disease
  • fevers, tonsillitis, sore throat, swelling - which are a risk of choking
  • barking cough, wheezy breathing may be present
  • leaching of toxins into the blood
  • complications - heart (arrhythmia), nervous system, kidneys
Infectious mononucleosis EBV - herpes virus
  • in most cases a non-serious course
  • flu-like symptoms, headache, sore throat, abdominal pain, fatigue, weakness, fever
  • tonsillitis
  • in some cases enlargement of the liver or spleen
  • can have various complications - blood (anaemia), neurological (meningitis), pulmonary, inflammation of the heart muscle (rare) or inflammation of the gallbladder 
Syphilitic angina
Acute pharyngitis
  • acute inflammation of the posterior pharyngeal wall 
  • most often viral origin
  • subsequent bacterial superinfection
  • primary bacterial infection rare
  • burning and cutting pain in the throat
  • irritating cough
  • feeling of congestion
  • difficulty swallowing
Chronic pharyngitis
  • long-term inflammation of the pharynx
  • alternation of an acute flare-up with a period of retreat
  • after repeated acute inflammations
  • chemical irritation
    • smoking
    • dusty environment
Chronic tonsillitis
  • recurrent sore throat is present
  • frequent inflammation of the tonsils
  • enlargement of regional nodules
  • risk of the infection moving to other parts of the body - joints, muscle pain, heart
  • surgical removal (tonsillectomy) is often necessary
  • circumscribed inflammation
  • peritonsillar - unilateral increased swelling and increased tenderness are observed
  • retro-pharyngeal - the back of the pharynx becomes dislocated - can cause a problem with the mobility of the cervical spine - be careful to differentiate malignant disease
  • odontogenic - tooth decay (caries)
  • abcess of the root of the tongue or phlegmon (uncircumscribed inflammation) - painful movement of the tongue
    • riziko zúženia dýchacích ciest
Chronic rhinitis
  • leakage of mucus from the nose into the throat
  • an allergic basis must be ruled out
  • more information also in the article Rhinitis
Deep neck space infection
  • uncommon disease
  • for weakened immunity, diabetes, old age, oncological diseases
  • risk of inflammation spreading to the head, but also to the chest
  • swelling of the throat
  • Pain
  • difficulty swallowing
  • reduced neck mobility
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • weakness
  • nausea
Laryngitis inflammation of the larynx (voice box)
  • Acute subglottic laryngitis
  • subglottis
    • swelling of the larynx in the area below the laryngeal flange
    • viral origin
    • in some cases allergic basis
    • most often between the ages of 6 months and 3 years
    • body temperature up to 38.5 °C
    • rhinitis present
    • whooping cough
    • stridor - whistling when inhaling
    • hoarse voice
    • there is no pain in the throat
    • can take a dramatic course
    • anatomical conditions in children's airways and swelling in inflammation
  • inflammation of the vocal cords
    • hoarse voice
    • weakening to loss of voice
    • the long-term form can induce chronic loss of voice
    • "voice/vocal rest"
  • antibiotic treatment is ineffective for viruses
Epiglottitis Inflammation of the epiglottis
  • bacterial origin - Haemophillus influenzae B
  • mostly in children aged between 1 and 6 years, especially between 3 and 4 years
  • fast progress - in hours
  • inflammation - phlegmon of the flap progresses rapidly and causes swelling
  • swelling clogs the airways 
  • swelling of the laryngeal appendage produces a typical clinical picture
    • mild cough
    • weak voice
    • body temperature rises above 38.5 °C
    • sore throat
    • difficulty swallowing
    • salivary leakage
    • sitting in a forward bend
    • dyspnoea - shortness of breath
  • POSTURE only in a sitting position, in a lying position it will suffocate
  • the importance of early detection and expert investigation with early treatment
  • antibiotics i.v. - into the vein, corticosteroids, treatment of oedema

Sore throat in children

Especially in young children, the anatomical proportions are different than in adulthood. The space in the airways is smaller. Any narrowing in this area can lead to difficulty breathing. This condition threatens the health and life of the child.

In childhood, it is important to recognize laryngitis from epiglottitis. The main differences are presented in the infographic.

Learn more: 
Laryngitis - inflammation of the larynx (voice box)
Epiglottitis - Inflammation of the epiglottis

Tumourous disease

The non-infectious origin of a sore throat can also point to an oncological process. A tumour can occur in several areas of the throat, such as part of the oropharynx, hypopharynx or at the entrance to the larynx.

The initial stage may not be manifested by a sore throat.

Symptoms include:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling of a foreign body in the throat
  • when swallowing, the bite gets stuck in the throat
  • painful swallowing
  • pain in the neck is associated with the overgrowth of the tumour into the surrounding structures, especially bone
  • sore throat even without temperature
  • Bad breath, also called halitosis, fetor oris, oral malodour, putrid breath
  • coughing up bloody sputum - mucus, blood
  • prolonged discomfort

Throat pain can originate elsewhere

In some cases, pain radiates to the area from another location.

Behind the transferred pain may be a disease of the stomach or the esophagus. A good example in this case is gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux). It is manifested by heartburn. It is commonly abbreviated as GERD - or GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease.

The cause is chemical irritation of the throat area by gastric - digestive juices. More information about this disease is presented in a separate article on heartburn.

Transmitted pain can also come from the cervical spine. Problems with the cervical spine are mainly indicated by pain radiating to the head, shoulders or recurrent dizziness.

Learn more: 3 symptoms of cervical spine pain

Another eventuality is a separate group of cardiovascular diseases.

The main representative is a painful form of ischemic heart disease, which proceeds chronically. Conversely, the acute form includes, for example, unstable angina pectoris or heart muscle infarction.

More articles: 
Ischaemic heart disease 
Angina pectoris
Myocardial infarction

Other symptoms of throat pain:

  • talking too loudly
  • speaking of extended periods of time
  • shouting, sceaming, yelling
  • irritation from smoke or dust
  • allergies as well as seasonal hay fever
  • inflammation of the thyroid gland - thyroiditis
  • processus styloideus elongatus (Eagle syndrome) - ossification (bone formation) of the stylohyoid ligament
  • Carotidynia - unilateral (one-sided) tenderness of the carotid artery - unknown cause
  • autoimmune - pemphigus, Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • neuralgic painn. glossopharyngeus - glossopharyngeal nerve - intense, excruciating pain shooting into the throat, worsens on swallowing
  • psychogenic pain - globus hystericus and globus nervosus - neuropathic problems
  • radiation mucositis - mucosal damage after radiotherapy (head and neck irradiation)
  • tuberculosis of the pharynx and laryngeal inlet
  • sore throat after anaesthesia and intubation

With the persistence of sore throat and the appearance of associated difficulties, a professional examination is necessary. It does not always have to be an inflamed throat.

Doctor examines little girl's sore throat
At any age, it is important to have a professional examination and determine the appropriate treatment. Photo: Getty images

Throat pain during pregnancy and after childbirth

In the same way, also in this period, this symptom can be associated. Of course, all the more important is a professional examination.

Home treatment may not be appropriate. It is necessary to consult a pharmacist about the choice of appropriate medication during this period.

Not all medications are indicated during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Antibiotics do not work on viral diseases.

During pregnancy, keeping the body temperature below 38 °C is important for fetal protection. Appropriate medication or a wrap or shower should then be chosen.

Lern more: Flu during pregnancy

Throat pain and home remedies

Home remedies should be mainly supportive.

In the case of viral origin, treatment is symptomatic (we treat the symptoms). Antibiotics do not work. Grandmotherly advice seems to be of more importance.

What to do for a sore throat in children, but the doctor decides.

If we have a bacterial disease, we need effective antibiotics. In this case, purely home treatment is ineffective. It can be used as a support and relief for difficulties.

Any neglect of professional examination or treatment can have a negative impact. Even, it can prolong the treatment period.

Prevention is important. In the seasonal period, it is advisable to increase vitamin intake, take probiotics or undergo vaccinations.

In autumn and winter, our bodies cannot make vitamin D from sunlight. It needs to be replenished in other ways. It is also advisable to increase the intake of vitamin C. The diet should contain plenty of vegetables and fruit or fibre.

Learn more: Home remedies to treat pharyngitis (throat inflammation).

A sick woman lying on a sofa
Babské rady a domáca liečba skôr ako doplnok. Foto: Getty images

How to Treat a Sore Throat Naturally

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Interesting resources

  • "Sore throat - Symptoms and causes". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  • Cohen, Jérémie F.; Pauchard, Jean-Yves; Hjelm, Nils; Cohen, Robert; Chalumeau, Martin (June 2020). "Efficacy and safety of rapid tests to guide antibiotic prescriptions for sore throat". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
  • Hovav, K.; Pinto-Garcia, P. (13 October 2021). "Sore Throat Causes, Home Remedies, and When to Seek Care". 
  • Marx, John (2010). Rosen's emergency medicine: concepts and clinical practice (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Mosby/Elsevier. p. Chapter 30. ISBN 978-0-323-05472-0.
  • Shaikh N, Leonard E, Martin JM (September 2010). "Prevalence of streptococcal pharyngitis and streptococcal carriage in children: a meta-analysis". Pediatrics126 (3): e557–64. 
  • "Group A Strep | Strep Throat | For Clinicians | GAS | CDC". 2019-04-19. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  • Thomas M, Del Mar C, Glasziou P (October 2000). "How effective are treatments other than antibiotics for acute sore throat?". Br J Gen Pract50 (459): 817–20. 
  • de Cassan, Simone; Thompson, Matthew J.; Perera, Rafael; Glasziou, Paul P.; Del Mar, Chris B.; Heneghan, Carl J.; Hayward, Gail (1 May 2020). "Corticosteroids as standalone or add-on treatment for sore throat". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews2020 (5): CD008268. 
  • de Cassan S, Thompson MJ, Perera R, Glasziou PP, Del Mar CB, Heneghan CJ (May 1, 2020). "Corticosteroids as standalone or add-on treatment for sore throat". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
  • Sadeghirad, Behnam; Siemieniuk, Reed A C; Brignardello-Petersen, Romina; Papola, Davide; Lytvyn, Lyubov; Vandvik, Per Olav; Merglen, Arnaud; Guyatt, Gordon H; Agoritsas, Thomas (20 September 2017). "Corticosteroids for treatment of sore throat: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials". BMJ358: j3887. 
  • Spinks A, Glasziou PP, Del Mar CB (Dec 9, 2021). "Antibiotics for treatment of sore throat in children and adults". Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
  • Ng, Gareth JY; Tan, Stephanie; Vu, Anh N; Del Mar, Chris B; van Driel, Mieke L (2015-07-14). Cochrane ENT Group (ed.). "Antibiotics for preventing recurrent sore throat". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (7): CD008911. 
  • "Hot drinks ease cold and flu". National Health Service. 10 December 2008.
  • Bathala S, Eccles R (March 2013). "A review on the mechanism of sore throat in tonsillitis". J Laryngol Otol (Review). 127 (3): 227–32. 
  • Thompson, M; Vodicka, TA; Blair, PS; Buckley, DI; Heneghan, C; Hay, AD; TARGET Programme, Team (Dec 11, 2013). "Duration of symptoms of respiratory tract infections in children: systematic review". BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.)347
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