Sore throats are characterized by scratchiness, pain, or irritation in the throat, which usually worsens when swallowing. Frequently, a sore throat is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a runny nose, coughing or sneezing, or a fever. Additional symptoms aren’t always present, though.
Most sore throats are caused by either a viral or bacterial infection. Influenza, which causes the flu, and the viruses that cause the common cold are the most common viral causes of sore throats. The most common bacterial cause is streptococcus, which causes strep throat.
While these are the most common causes of sore throats, they aren’t the only ones. Allergies, muscle strain, HIV, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and tumors can also cause sore throats. These causes are much less common, but they can be extremely serious.
How a sore throat is treated depends on what’s causing it. Viral sore throats must be allowed to run their course, although medical providers may be able to help alleviate a patient’s symptoms until the viral infection subsides.
Before treating a sore throat caused by bacteria, a medical provider will usually order a strep test. A strep test involves swabbing the throat and then checking to see if bacteria are on the swabbed cells. It’s fairly simple and confirms whether the sore throat is indeed caused by the streptococcus bacteria. If the cause is bacterial, a doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics.
When a sore throat is caused by one of the less common causes mentioned above, treatment can be more involved than simply letting an infection run its course or prescribing antibiotics. The best course of treatment in these cases will depend on a person’s other medical conditions and should be determined by a qualified medical provider.