Having a sore throat is always painful and uncomfortable, but often difficult to classify: it’s a fairly common occurrence, and it can be symptomatic of several different illnesses, both bacterial and viral as well as allergy related.
The term a “sore” throat is used to describe a number of types of pain that may be bothering you. Generally speaking, a sore throat can mean you’re experiencing itchiness, aching, scratchiness, or any other type of pain or irritation there. Describing the specific type of discomfort you’re experiencing can be helpful to your doctor in diagnosing the problem.
Aside from pain, a sore throat is usually accompanied by other symptoms. The area is often swollen or inflamed as well, although to degree to which you notice may vary depending on what’s causing it; tonsils (the tissue at the back sides of your throat, visible when you open your mouth) may appear visibly red or swollen. This can be caused by tonsillitis or other infections. In cases of bacterial infection – most commonly strep throat – white patches filled with pus usually appear on the tonsils. Checking your tonsils with a mirror or someone else’s help can be a useful diagnostic tool.
The swelling that occurs in the tonsils and along the length of the throat can make it difficult to do things like swallow, yawn, and speak, because the pain increases when you do these things. Additionally, you may have trouble speaking due to hoarseness (commonly called “losing your voice”). Your throat isn’t the only thing that experiences swelling, however: both viral and bacterial infections can cause the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin to swell; they may also become tender and sore to the touch.
Scratchiness in the throat is often caused by post-nasal drip, when a congested nose leaks mucus down the back of throat, and it can be a sign of allergies. Changes in the weather such as dry heat can irritate the throat, as well as environmental factors like poor air quality or exposure to chemicals. Simply straining your voice through overuse or yelling can also cause soreness.
Examining the symptoms that accompany the soreness in your throat, from fever to watery eyes, can be helpful in finding the cause.