Sore Throat

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain, discomfort, or raw feeling of the throat, especially when swallowing

Some Basics...

  • Sore throat is a reason many people go to the doctor's office.
  • Sore throats can be caused by viruses or bacteria. The term for a throat infection is pharyngitis.
  • Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Most sore throats can be treated at home.

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Causes of Sore Throat

  • Colds: Most sore throats are from a cold or other viral infection. Cough, hoarseness, and nasal symptoms are signs of a cold or virus.
  • Strep Throat: In adults, about 10-20% of sore throats are caused by the strep bacteria. Strep throat is treated with antibiotics.
  • Mono: Infectious mononucleosis is mostly seen in young adults. It causes 5-10% of the sore throats in that group. People with a fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes may have mono. People with mono do not have strep throat. A blood test can help make the diagnosis. Mono is not treated with antibiotics.
  • Other Causes: These can include dry air, smoking and post-nasal drip. Yelling or shouting too hard can strain the throat and make it feel sore. STDs like gonorrhea can also cause throat infections.

When to Call for Sore Throat

Call 911 Now

  • Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath or cannot speak)
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Fever over 103° F (39.4° C)
  • You feel dehydrated (dizzy, dry mouth, very thirsty)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Sore throat pain is severe
  • Pus on the tonsils (back of throat) along with fever
  • Widespread rash on your back and stomach
  • Earache or sinus pain/pressure
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • Exposed in the past 2 weeks to someone who had strep throat
  • Have had rheumatic fever
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a weak immune system (HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroid use, splenectomy)
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Sore throat is the only problem and lasts more than 2 days
  • Sore throat is mild and lasts more than 4 days
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild sore throat

Care Advice for Mild Sore Throat

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Sore throats can be caused by viruses or bacteria. The term for a throat infection is pharyngitis.
    • Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat.
    • You can treat mild sore throats at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. For Relief of Sore Throat Pain:
    • Sip warm chicken broth or apple juice.
    • Suck on hard candy or a throat lozenge.
    • Gargle warm salt water 3 times daily. Make this using 1 teaspoon of salt in 8 oz of warm water.
    • Avoid smoking.
  3. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  4. Soft Diet: Cold drinks and milk shakes are good to drink. Swollen tonsils can make solid foods hard to swallow.
  5. Drink Plenty of Liquids:
    • Drink plenty of liquids. This is important to prevent dehydration.
    • A healthy adult should drink 6-8 cups (240 ml) or more of liquid each day.
    • How can you tell if you are drinking enough liquids? The goal is to keep the urine clear or light-yellow in color. If your urine is bright yellow or dark yellow, you are probably not drinking enough liquids.
    • Caution: Some medical problems require fluid restriction.
  6. How It Is Spread: Return to normal activities after your fever is gone and you feel better. If you have strep throat, take an antibiotic for 24 hours before you return. See a doctor if you think you have strep throat.
  7. What to Expect: Sore throats from viruses most often last 3-4 days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Sore throat is the main problem and it lasts more than 24 hours
    • Sore throat is mild but lasts more than 4 days
    • Fever lasts more than 3 days
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 8/23/2017 1:16:53 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:18 PM

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Scarlet Fever Rash

The photo shows the typical Scarlet Fever rash on the forearm.

The scarlet fever rash first appears as tiny red bumps on the chest and abdomen that may spread all over the body. Looking like a sunburn, it feels like a rough piece of sandpaper, and lasts about 2-5 days.

Scarlet fever is a disease caused by the same bacteria (Streptococcus) that causes strep throat. A person with Scarlet fever has a throat that is red and sore, usually a fever, usually swollen glands in the neck, and a Scarlet fever rash.

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