Sore Throat and Runny Nose: Causes and Treatments

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sore throat describes a scratchy or uncomfortable sensation aggravated when swallowing or talking. A runny nose occurs when mucus drips from the nostrils. Sore throat and runny nose often occur together, such as with a cold, COVID-19 infection, or allergies.

This article will review common health conditions associated with a sore throat and runny nose. It will also discuss the treatment and possible prevention of these conditions.

Person on couch with runny nose, mug in hand
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What Causes Sore Throat and Runny Nose?

Viral infections are typical culprits behind a person's sore throat and runny nose. The offending virus invades a person's throat tissue and the tissue lining the nose.

In response to the infection, cells within the nose and throat release small proteins called cytokines that help the body fight infection. These cytokines are responsible for tissue inflammation and mucus production, which helps trap the virus.

A runny nose results from mucus trapping germs or other harmful particles and draining out of the nose, ridding the body of the infection or irritant. A sore throat develops from the inflamed throat tissue and mucus dripping down the back of the throat (postnasal drip).

Two viral infections that cause a sore throat and runny nose are:

  • Common cold is caused by one of many viruses, with rhinovirus being the most common in children and adults. A runny nose and sore throat are typical symptoms, along with cough and sneezing.
  • COVID-19 is a widespread coronavirus that first appeared in late 2019. Symptoms range in severity and commonly include fever, dry cough, muscle aches, and tiredness. Sore throat is present in around 12% of cases and runny nose in 7%.

Do COVID-19 Symptoms Feel Like a Cold?

Infection with COVID-19 may resemble that of a cold, although research suggests that sore throat and runny nose are significantly more likely to be seen with a cold than with COVID-19. Still, consider testing for COVID-19 if you have a sore throat and/or runny nose.

Allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, describe an overactive immune system response to a foreign substance. It's a common noninfectious cause of sore throat and runny nose.

Common environmental allergens (proteins within your surroundings that are supposed to be harmless) include pollen, dust, pet dander, and mold.

Exposure to allergens causes nose and sinus inflammation and mucus production. The clear mucus drips out of the nose and drains down the back of the throat, causing irritation and a tender or tickly sensation.

Besides a sore throat and runny nose, other possible allergy symptoms include:

 Sore Throat, Runny Nose, and Fever

Additional causes of sore throat and runny nose that are also almost always associated with fever are:

  • Influenza (the flu) is a viral infection that causes high fever, sore throat, headache, muscle pain, and whole-body weakness. A runny nose may also occur with influenza, although it's less likely than with the common cold.
  • Bacterial sinusitis occurs when bacteria inflame the tissue lining the nose and the adjacent sinuses (air-filled spaces around your nose, forehead, cheeks, and eyes). Symptoms may include sore throat (from postnasal drip), thick and colored nasal discharge, nose stuffiness, and facial pressure.

Can You Get a Fever With a Cold?

Yes, a fever may occur with a cold, although it's uncommon in adults. Fever with a cold is more likely to occur in babies and preschool children.

Strep throat—a bacterial infection caused by Group A Streptococcus (GAS)—is another cause of sore throat and fever. A runny nose is possible but rarely seen. Common symptoms include a fever, sore throat, swollen neck lymph nodes, and red tonsils, sometimes streaked with white patches.

See a healthcare provider if you think you may have the flu, bacterial sinus infection, or strep throat.

A healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral drug if you are diagnosed with the flu. Such antiviral medications include:

  • Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is available as a pill or liquid.
  • Relenza (zanamivir) is an inhaled powder.
  • Rapivab (peramivir) is administered intravenously (through a vein in the arm).
  • Xofluza (baloxavir) is a pill.

Being prescribed these medications will depend on factors like illness severity and whether you have any underlying health problems.

A person with bacterial sinusitis or strep throat requires an antibiotic. Amoxil (amoxicillin) is typically used to treat either infection unless you have a penicillin allergy, in which case an alternative antibiotic will be prescribed.

Home Treatment for Sore Throat and Runny Nose

Various home therapies can treat sore throat and runny nose, depending on the root cause.

Sore Throat From Infection

Home treatments to ease a sore throat from infection include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever: Take an OTC medicine like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Advil (ibuprofen).
  • Sore throat lozenges: Suck on a lozenge with a numbing agent like benzocaine or hexylresorcinol.
  • Honey and lemon: Drink lemon or thyme tea mixed with honey.

What About Children?

Speak with a pediatrician if your child is experiencing a sore throat and runny nose. The above treatments may not be appropriate for them. For example:

  • The NSAID aspirin is not recommended for children under 18 because it can lead to a serious disease called Reye's syndrome.
  • Parents should avoid giving honey to babies 12 months old and younger to prevent botulism.
  • Children under age 6 should not be given throat lozenges due to choking risk.

Runny Nose From Infection

Home treatments to ease a runny nose from infection include:

  • An OTC nasal spray called NasalCrom (cromolyn) decreases nose tissue inflammation.
  • An OTC nasal decongestant, like Sudafed Congestion (pseudoephedrine), reduces swelling in the nose by narrowing blood vessels. Avoid giving decongestants to children under 6, as they can cause side effects. 
  • Nasal irrigation with a saltwater solution may be soothing, although the scientific evidence remains limited. You can purchase saltwater solution and a bulb syringe (for very young children) or neti pot at your local pharmacy.
  • Facial steam has not shown consistent benefit. If you want to try it, place a towel over your head while standing over a bowl of recently boiled water for five minutes daily.

Sore Throat and Runny Nose From Allergies

If you are experiencing an allergy-related sore throat and runny nose, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended:

  • Avoiding allergens (e.g., if allergic to pollen, stay indoors when the pollen count is high)
  • Using a steroid nasal spray, some of which are available OTC, like Flonase Allergy Relief (fluticasone propionate)
  • Taking an OTC antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine) or Claritin (loratadine)

Talk to a Healthcare Professional

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking an OTC medication. They may interact with other medicines or, in some cases, cause harm.

How to Prevent Sore Throat and Runny Nose

A sore throat and runny nose caused by a bacterial or viral infection are contagious. An infection can be transmitted from one person to another, generally through the air or close personal contact.

The following strategies can help prevent infection spread:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20-second intervals. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Stay away from people who are sick.
  • Disinfect often-used home, work, and school surfaces and objects (e.g., doorknob, cell phone, work desk).

The following lifestyle behaviors like these can also enhance immunity and improve overall health and well-being:

If you suspect your sore throat and runny nose are from allergies, an allergist (a medical doctor specializing in allergic diseases) can pinpoint what allergens you are reacting to and, from there, help devise a plan for minimizing or avoiding exposure to them.


Sore throat and runny nose are common symptoms that, when seen together, often indicate allergies or an infection like a cold.

Most viral causes of sore throat can be treated with an OTC painkiller and numbing throat lozenge. Likewise, a runny nose may be soothed with an OTC nasal spray or saltwater rinses. Allergy treatment often entails a combination of allergen avoidance and medication.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.