Looks at symptoms of sore throat caused by virus and bacteria infections and irritants. Covers common cold, mononucleosis (mono), strep throat, and flu. Covers symptoms such as swollen glands and pain. Discusses antibiotics and home treatment medicines.
Sore Throat and Other Throat Problems
Sore throats can be painful and annoying.
Fortunately, most sore throats are caused by a minor illness and go away
without medical treatment.
Several conditions can cause a sore
Sore throats may be caused by a
viral illness, such as:
A sore throat that lasts
longer than a week is often caused by irritants or an injuries, such as:
Throat irritation from low humidity, smoking,
air pollution, yelling, or nasal drainage down the back of the throat (postnasal drip).
Breathing through the mouth when you have allergies
or a stuffy nose.
Stomach acid that backs up into the throat, which
may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Although
GERD often occurs with
heartburn, an acid taste in the mouth, or a cough,
sometimes a sore throat is the only symptom.
An injury to the back
of the throat, such as a cut or puncture from falling with a pointed object in
Treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. You may
be able to use home treatment to obtain relief.
illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat, it is important not to
use antibiotics to treat them. Antibiotics do not alter the course of viral
infections. Unnecessary use of an antibiotic exposes you to the risks of an
allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may
kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous
antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For sore throats caused by strep, treatment with antibiotics may be needed.
Taking a rectal temperature is the only way to be sure that a baby this age does not have a fever. If you don't know the rectal temperature, it's safest to assume the baby has a fever and needs to be seen by a doctor. Any problem that causes a fever at this age could be serious.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in children are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle
cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
after organ transplant.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Not having a spleen.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
You can get dehydrated when
you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For
You may feel tired and edgy (mild dehydration), or
you may feel weak, not alert, and not able to think clearly (severe
You may pass less urine than usual (mild
dehydration), or you may not be passing urine at all (severe
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Make an appointment to see your doctor in the
next 1 to 2 weeks.
If appropriate, try home treatment while you
are waiting for the appointment.
If symptoms get worse or you have
any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild,
think about these issues:
With a high fever:
You feel very hot.
It is likely one of
the highest fevers you've ever had. High fevers are not that common, especially
With a moderate fever:
You feel warm or hot.
You know you have
With a mild fever:
You may feel a little warm.
you might have a fever, but you're not sure.
Severe trouble breathing means:
The child cannot eat or talk because he or she is
breathing so hard.
The child's nostrils are flaring and the belly
is moving in and out with every breath.
The child seems to be
The child seems very sleepy or confused.
Moderate trouble breathing means:
The child is breathing a lot faster than
The child has to take breaks from eating or talking to
The nostrils flare or the belly moves in and out at times
when the child breathes.
Mild trouble breathing means:
The child is breathing a little faster than usual.
The child seems a little out of breath but can still eat or talk.
Babies can quickly get dehydrated when they lose fluids because of problems like
vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to
severe. For example:
The baby may be fussy or cranky (mild dehydration),
or the baby may be very sleepy and hard to wake up (severe
The baby may have a little less urine than usual
(mild dehydration), or the baby may not be urinating at all (severe
Symptoms of difficulty breathing in a baby or young child can range from mild to severe. For example:
The child may be breathing a little faster than usual (mild difficulty breathing), or the child may be having so much trouble that the nostrils are flaring and the belly is moving in and out with every breath (severe difficulty breathing).
The child may seem a little out of breath but is still able to eat or talk (mild difficulty breathing), or the child may be breathing so hard that he or she cannot eat or talk (severe difficulty breathing).
Sudden drooling and trouble swallowing can be signs of a
serious problem called epiglottitis. This problem can
happen at any age.
The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the back
of the throat that you can't see when you look in the mouth. When you swallow, it closes to keep food and fluids out of the
tube (trachea) that leads to the lungs. If the epiglottis becomes inflamed or
infected, it can swell and quickly block the airway. This makes it very hard to
The symptoms start suddenly. A person with epiglottitis
is likely to seem very sick, have a fever, drool, and have trouble breathing,
swallowing, and making sounds. In the case of a child, you may notice the child
trying to sit up and lean forward with his or her jaw forward, because it's
easier to breathe in this position.
You can use a small rubber bulb (called an aspirating bulb)
to remove mucus from your baby's nose or mouth when a
cold or allergies make it hard for the baby to eat, sleep, or breathe.
To use the bulb:
Put a few saline nose drops in each side of the
baby's nose before you start.
Position the baby with his or her
head tilted slightly back.
Squeeze the round base of the
Gently insert the tip of the bulb tightly inside the baby's
Release the bulb to remove (suction) mucus from the
Don't do this more than 5 or 6 times a day. Doing it too often
can make the congestion worse and can also cause the lining of the nose to
swell or bleed.
Mouth and Dental Injuries
Home treatment is usually all that
is needed for a sore throat caused by a virus. These tips may help you feel
Gargle with warm salt water to help reduce
swelling and relieve discomfort:
Gargle at least once each hour with
1 tsp (5 g)
of salt dissolved in
8 fl oz (240 mL) of warm water.
If you have
postnasal drip, gargle often to prevent more throat irritation.
dehydration. Fluids may help thin secretions and
soothe an irritated throat. Hot fluids, such as tea or soup, may help decrease
Decongestants make breathing easier by
shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, allowing air to pass through.
They also help relieve a runny nose and postnasal drip, which can cause a sore
Decongestants can be taken orally or used as
decongestant nasal sprays. Oral decongestants (pills)
are probably more effective and provide longer relief but may cause more side
If you have
mononucleosis, do not share eating or drinking
utensils to prevent spreading the virus to others. A brief kiss on the lips is
not likely to spread mono; it is spread when saliva from an infected person
enters another person's mouth.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.