Whether it’s a dull ache, dryness, or a scratchy, burning sensation, a sore throat is one of the most common — and most irritating — symptoms you can develop. It also has a number of potential causes, which may affect the type of pain you experience.
In many cases, a sore throat is a sign of an illness you contracted from a viral infection such as the common cold or the flu, and it’s usually one of the first symptoms to appear; other cold symptoms like a runny nose or cough follow, and the throat will feel better in a day or two. Unfortunately, when a virus is responsible there’s no medication to cure it; the only treatment is to ease and manage symptoms.
Bacteria can also cause an infection that leads to a sore throat, and the pain is usually more intense and longer-lasting than the viral kind. The most typical example is strep throat, whose pain often comes on suddenly and can make it difficult to swallow due to swollen tonsils. Strep throat can be treated with antibiotics.
People who smoke or who work in environments with a high level of pollution (including smog, smoke, chemical fumes) are more likely to develop a sore throat. Depending on the source, this may appear as dryness, rawness, or general irritation, as well as a hoarse voice. Sore throats that result from this kind of irritation tend to be chronic; if you are a smoker, quitting can help reduce these symptoms. People with allergies often develop a scratchy or itchy throat when exposed to their allergen, and it can be worsened if they also get post-nasal drip, which further irritates the area.
It’s possible to strain your throat from too much yelling or screaming, leading to a sore, achy feeling as well as hoarseness or difficulty speaking.
Identifying any accompanying symptoms can help diagnose the cause of your sore throat, which may affect the way you treat it. Consult a doctor if your throat pain lingers more than a week, interferes with swallowing, or if you notice pus on your tonsils or other serious symptoms.