Symptoms of Sore Throat

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sore throat symptoms
© Verywell, 2018

A sore throat sounds generic enough, but the symptoms you feel can vary depending on the reason for a sore throat itself. Aside from standard pain and irritation, symptoms sometimes also include difficulty swallowing and swelling, among other things. Most of the time, symptoms go away on their own within a day or two, but they can persist. And while many may simply be unwanted, others—like high fever or rash—indicate that you should seek medical attention.

Frequent Symptoms

The symptoms you have with a sore throat depend on the cause. The throat discomfort itself may take these forms:

  • Scratchy sensation
  • Pain that is usually worse when you talk or swallow
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen glands or tonsils
  • Raspy voice; difficulty talking

Respiratory infections or nasal drainage into the back of the throat are the most common causes of a sore throat. With them, you are likely to have one or more of these symptoms along with a sore throat:

  • Coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, and nasal drainage
  • Fever
  • Aching body
  • A headache
  • Nausea or vomiting (in children)

Rare Symptoms

In young children, blood may be seen in nasal discharge or phlegm, if present. Blisters on the throat, hands, and feet may be seen if a child has a sore throat due to Coxsackie virus, leading to its common name of hand, foot, and mouth disease. Most common in the summer and fall, this virus often comes with a higher fever and more difficulty in swallowing; your child may also seem sicker than with a typical cold.

Difficulty breathing or swallowing may signal you are developing epiglottitis or having a more severe allergic reaction. In the case of a sore throat due to allergies, you may have more severe signs of asthma with increased difficulty in breathing. If you are developing anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction, the throat discomfort may be accompanied by hives, swollen tongue and throat, and low blood pressure, in addition to difficulty breathing.

A lump in the neck that isn't due to swollen glands can be a sign that the sore throat may be due to laryngeal cancer. Ear pain may also be a sign of a tumor, as is unexplained weight loss and changes in your voice. If your sore throat doesn't go away and you have any of these signs, you should see your doctor. But remember, laryngeal cancer is rare.

Complications

Some potential complications are due to a sore throat itself, while others are related to causes of a sore throat.

When you have a sore throat, the pain can disrupt your sleeping patterns and worsen sleep apnea. Dehydration is a concern if you have difficulty swallowing and don't drink enough fluids. If your sore throat continues, you may also have trouble getting adequate nutrition due to pain and difficulty in swallowing.

If a sore throat is due to strep throat, it needs to be treated with a full course of antibiotics. If not treated, this can lead to rheumatic fever, kidney damage, or abscesses of the tonsils. It is important to take all of the antibiotics and not to stop once you are feeling better. If you think you might have strep throat, you need to see a healthcare provider to have a strep test performed.

Allergies that cause post-nasal drip and a sore throat can lead to other medical problems. You are at more risk of developing asthma, which affects your airways and breathing. You also can be at more risk of developing sinusitis, ear infections, and lung infections.

Epiglottitis, swelling of the cartilage that covers your windpipe, can occur due to infections such as strep throat, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae type B. This can block your airflow, requiring emergency treatment.

When to See a Doctor

You should contact your doctor if you have a sore throat and were exposed to someone with strep throat. Rapid strep tests can be performed in most doctor's offices in about five minutes. Throat cultures are more accurate, but they can take up to two days to provide results.

You should also contact your doctor if you have a sore throat and any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing or sleeping due to pain
  • Difficulty breathing or opening your mouth
  • A sore throat lasting longer than a week
  • White patches in the throat
  • Fever higher than 101 degrees
  • Fever for more than two days
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm
  • Rash
  • Earache
  • A cough that produces mucus or a cough that lasts for more than a week
  • Child with a sore throat and a harsh, barking cough
  • Peeling in the mouth and swollen gums and tongue
  • Hoarseness for more than two weeks
  • A sore throat comes back frequently

A majority of sore throats are minor and don't require medical treatment, but a sore throat can signal a more serious infection or illness. Talking to your healthcare provider about any concerns is always a good idea.

View Article Sources
  • Allergies. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351497.
  • Sore Throat Overview. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/sore-throat/.
  • Sore Throats. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1451.
  • Throat Cancer. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/throat-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20366462.
  • When a Sore Throat is a More Serious Infection. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/When-a-Sore-Thoat-is-a-More-Serious-Infection.aspx.