Yet a sore throat isn’t a disease. Most often, it’s a symptom of another illness — such as the common cold or the flu. In many cases, a sore throat is the first indication that you’re getting sick.
Bacterial infections that cause sore throats Mononucleosis are sometimes treated with antibiotics. But antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses, the cause of most illnesses that result in a sore throat. In that case, your best response is self-care measures including rest and plenty of liquids.
A sore throat — known medically as pharyngitis — usually occurs along with other signs and symptoms. These can vary considerably, depending on the type of infection you have. Most often, a sore throat accompanies a viral infection, such as a common cold or the flu. You can usually distinguish between the two based on your sore throat symptoms.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses; the same germs that cause colds and flu. A much smaller number are due to bacterial infections. Viruses and bacteria both enter your body through your mouth or nose — either because you breathe in particles that are released into the air when someone coughs or sneezes, or because you have handtohand contact with an infected person or use shared objects such as utensils, towels, toys, doorknobs or a telephone. Touch your eyes or nose after such contact and you’re likely to become sick yourself.
Because the germs that cause sore throats are contagious, they can spread easily wherever large numbers of people congregate: schools, day cares and offices. Even so, not all sore throats result from viral or bacterial infections. Other common causes of sore throat include:
Allergies. The same pet dander, molds and pollens that trigger allergic reactions such as red, swollen eyes and a runny nose can also cause a sore throat.
Dryness. Dry indoor air, especially in winter when rooms tend to be overheated, can make your throat feel rough and scratchy, particularly in the morning when you first wake up. Breathing through your mouth — often because of chronic nasal congestion — can also cause a dry, sore throat.
Pollution and other irritants. Outdoor air pollution can cause ongoing throat irritation. But indoor pollution — especially tobacco smoke — is an even greater cause of chronic sore throat. What’s more, inhaling secondhand smoke is often just as damaging as smoking itself. Smokeless tobacco, alcohol and spicy foods can also inflame your throat.
Air conditioning. In an out from cold to hot and vice versa. Also beware of air conditioning systems that are not properly cleaned as they carry bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This occurs when stomach acid backs up into your food pipe (oesophagus). Normally, a circular band of muscle (lower oesophageal sphincter) acts as a one-way valve, allowing food and fluid to pass into the stomach while blocking acid from coming up into the oesophagus.
But if the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can back up, irritating your throat as well as your oesophagus. Throat irritation caused by GERD doesn’t occur with other symptoms of a viral illness, and it tends to be persistent, rather than lasting just a few days.