8 Causes of a Sore Throat: Should You Be Alarmed?

You wake up, go to talk, and all that comes out is a croak. You try to swallow, and your throat burns. It looks like you’re coming down with something — should you worry? 

Most scratchy throats result from everyday infections. However, in a few cases, you should book an appointment with your doctor. Here are eight common causes of a sore throat, most of which are little cause for concern. 

1. Overuse 

Ah, 2019 — the good old days when you could still scream yourself silly at rock concerts and sporting events. What an innocent time society lived in before the novel coronavirus. 

Eventually, the good times will return, and when they do, your voice may once again depart. However, if you couldn’t wait and decided to recreate the concert experience in your living room, you might have laryngitis brought on from overuse. If you sang at the top of your lungs while playing Rock Band, rest your voice while waiting 24 hours and see if your symptoms improve. 

2. Common Cold 

Who wants to wake up sick in 2020? Hello, quarantine, my old friend. 

However, the same rhinoviruses responsible for the common cold often cause a sore throat. Suspect this cause if your symptoms remain primarily above the chest, and you don’t have a fever. Pay attention, though, if your symptoms get worse or fail to abate within a few days. Most colds last about 10 to 14 days, but you should feel an improvement much sooner. 

3. The Flu

The influenza virus can also cause sore throats, depending on the strain circulating any given year. The best way to attack this pathogen is through prevention. Please wash your hands frequently, especially as the weather grows colder. Flu viruses proliferate more in cool, dry weather. 

Should you get a flu shot this year? Experts say it’s more vital than ever. Although September and October are the best months for vaccinations, better late than never if you haven’t gotten sick yet. 

4. Strep Throat 

If you look in your child’s throat and see red, inflamed areas covered with white pussy bumps, they might have strep throat. Unlike colds or flu, strep results from a bacterial infection, and doctors can treat it with antibiotics. 

However, the condition isn’t very common in adults — most still have antibodies. The best way to determine the cause is with a rapid strep test, which your doctor can administer. If left untreated, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever, so make your appointment without delay. 

5. Mononucleosis 

The Epstein-Barr virus causes mononucleosis, colloquially called “mono” or “the kissing disease.” Along with a sore throat, this infection causes extreme fatigue and a swollen liver or spleen. 

Although most individuals recover from mono with few ill effects, some go on to develop ongoing problems. Researchers now link the Epstein-Barr virus with at least seven other disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease. 

Furthermore, individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) often battled mono as children. Researchers are now investigating parallels between these individuals and so-called COVID-19 “long-haulers” to potentially solve both conditions. 

6. Tonsillitis 

If your child still has their tonsils, their sore throat may represent an infection in these organs. Because they block the entrance to the esophagus, one of the first symptoms may be difficulty swallowing. Tonsils often become swollen and red with white pus spots. 

Newer antibiotics mean fewer children undergo a tonsillectomy than previously. However, those who get frequent infections can still benefit from removal. 

7. Coxsackievirus 

There is a disease called hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) caused by the coxsackievirus. Such infections typically occur in children and more rarely in adults, who often have developed antibodies. 

Fortunately, this infection frequently runs its course with few complications. While it can cause a sore throat and fever, it clears up in one to three weeks. Treatments include rest and isolation from others to prevent spread. 

8. Environmental Toxins

Exposure to pollution can do more than make you feel sad for the planet. It can lead to upper respiratory illness — causing a sore throat. 

If you are sensitive to smog, make sure you check the air quality index before heading outdoors. 2020 ironically may have decreased this cause of sore throats. Wearing a mask is one way to filter out pollutants before they have a chance to irritate your mucus membranes — okay, consider this blessing counted. 

What About the Novel Coronavirus? 

If you watch the news, you might think that a cough, fever and a loss of taste and smell indicate infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While a sore throat is one possible symptom, it usually doesn’t appear as the only sign. 

However, because the virus is so new, you can’t be too careful. Please continue to follow CDC guidelines and quarantine if you suspect you were exposed to the novel coronavirus or develop cold and flu-like symptoms. 

Learn These 8 Causes of a Sore Throat 

Now that you know eight possible causes of sore throat, you know there is likely little cause for alarm. While you should still call your doctor when you are unsure, you can treat many ailments at home with rest and TLC.