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Why It Hurts to Swallow: Common Causes of a Sore Throat

There are many reasons why your throat may become irritated or feel sore and hurt. Your throat may become sore due to allergies, the common cold, or other upper respiratory tract illnesses. Often, sore throat symptoms go away in a few days. If your sore throat pain is lingering, it may be a symptom of another underlying condition. 

Although it may seem obvious, a sore throat is defined as a pain in the back of the throat. This pain may be a scratchy or burning feeling and even hurt to swallow or talk. The type of pain and severity can vary, depending on the cause.

woman holding her throat because it is sore

What does a sore throat feel like?

A sore throat may start with a raspy feeling in your throat as if your throat is dry. If your sore throat pain worsens, you may feel a sharp pain when you swallow or talk or you may even feel like your throat is on fire. You may feel pain in your ears or down the side of your neck.. 

Symptoms of a sore throat can include:

  • mild to severe pain in the back of your throat

  • dry or scratchy feeling in your throat

  • pain when swallowing or talking

  • hoarseness

  • redness in the back of your throat

  • swollen tonsils

  • swollen glands in your neck or jaw

  • white patches on your tonsils

Is a sore throat a serious issue?

An ongoing sore throat could be an indicator of a more substantial issue. For example, a sore throat is one symptom of COVID-19 or strep throat. Most of the time, however, a sore throat is a symptom of less serious conditions, usually accompanying a cold. 

The following symptoms may accompany a sore throat: 

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Upset stomach

  • Runny nose

  • Cough

  • Fatigue

What causes sore throats?

Bacterial infection: Examples are strep throat and bacterial sinus infections.

Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, pets or mold can make your throat dry and scratchy. Sore throat from allergies results from postnasal drip (when mucus from your nose drips down the back of your throat). The mucus irritates your throat and causes pain.

Tonsillitis: Tonsils are the two small glands at the back of your throat. Their job is to trap the germs that make you sick. Tonsillitis occurs when your tonsils become infected and inflamed by what could start as a cold. 

Overuse or irritants: Overusing your throat muscles by yelling or screaming can cause a strain. You may also develop a sore throat by irritating it when you eat spicy food, smoke or drink very hot liquids.

Mouth breathing: You may have a sore throat if you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose when sleeping.

Home care tips for a sore throat

What can I do for my sore throat?

Sucking on throat lozenges or hard candies may ease sore throat symptoms. 

Other suggestions include:

  • Drink warm liquids: Drinking tea with lemon and honey, broth, or bouillon may help dry scratchy throats.

  • Apply ice: Sucking on ice chips or cold popsicles may help with sore throat pain.

  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer: Adding moisture to your environment, especially when sleeping, helps dry throats.

  • Rest: If your throat is sore from shouting, screaming, singing or even talking, resting your voice may help. 

  • Avoid irritants: Second-hand smoke, smoking, spicy foods, and very hot liquids may irritate your sore throat. If you smoke, please try giving up cigarettes or cigars for a few days.

When to see a doctor

You should contact a healthcare provider if your sore throat lasts longer than a week, symptoms worsen or you develop additional symptoms such as fever or swollen lymph nodes.

  • Severe throat pain.

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing.

  • A fever, especially over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

  • A visible bulge in the back of your throat.

  • Blood in your saliva or phlegm.

  • Extreme tiredness.

  • Rash anywhere on your body.

Make an appointment at Topeka ENT if you have persistent throat pain that doesn’t improve with self-care. Our team of dedicated health professionals will help to evaluate your throat pain and recommend the proper treatment. If you are suffering from a sore throat in Topeka, let the health care team at Topeka ENT help to find you relief.



Cleveland Clinic



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