A sore throat is a pretty common, and sometimes hard to define, symptom on its own. But white spots on the back of the throat, visible with a glance through an open mouth, can indicate a bacterial or viral infection. Taking stock of the accompanying symptoms can help you determine which it might be.
One of the more common causes of white patches on the throat is strep throat, a bacterial infection that can be serious if left untreated. Strep throat causes a raw, scratchy, sore feeling in the throat and comes with red, inflamed tonsils; the inflammation is visible when you open your mouth – the old, “say ahh” – and you may also notice red spots on the throat, swollen lymph nodes under the jaw, and a fever. Although these signs together are a good indication of strep throat, it’s not possible to say for sure without a test, so see a doctor for diagnosis. If it is strep, you’ll receive antibiotics to help fight the infection and reduce your risk of spreading it to others.
Mononucleosis, more commonly called mono, is notorious among teenagers as “the kissing disease”. Spread through saliva particles (although not necessarily from kissing), this viral infection causes a sore throat with white or yellow patches, as well as sleepiness and fatigue, body aches, and a rash; the lymph nodes under the jaw may also be enlarged. Symptoms of mono usually last several weeks or even months, so it’s important to see a doctor for treatment.
A yeast infection may also be the source of the white patches: oral thrush is caused by an overgrowth of fungus, and usually occurs in infants, people with a compromised immune system, or as the result of certain medications. In this case, white spots may not be contained to the back of throat and tonsils, but also be present inside the mouth and on the tongue. Other symptoms of this condition include cracking in the corners of the mouth, loss of ability to taste, difficulty swallowing, and a bright red tongue. Oral thrush is treated with antifungal medications.