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Adult Symptoms > > Sore Throat
Sore Throat

DEFINITION

  • Pain, discomfort or raw feeling of the throat, especially when swallowing

General Information

  • Sore throat is one of the most common reasons patients go to the doctor's office.
  • The medical term for a throat infection is pharyngitis or tonsillo-pharyngitis.

 

Causes of Sore Throat

  • Colds: Most sore throats are from a cold or other viral infection. The presence of a cough, hoarseness or nasal symptoms points to a cold or viral infection as the cause of the sore throat.
  • Strep Throat: In adults, approximately 10-20% of sore throats are caused by the streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Streptococcal pharyngitis is the only commonly occurring bacteria for which antibiotic therapy is definitely indicated.
  • Mono: Infectious mononucleosis is primarily seen in young adults, causing 5-10% of the sore throats in that population. It should be suspected in young adults with fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and a negative strep throat culture. A blood test called a "monospot" can help make the diagnosis. There is no antibiotic treatment.
  • Other common causes include dry air, smoking, post-nasal drip and yelling. Sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., gonorrhea) can also cause pharyngitis.

 


See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If

  • Sore throat occurs with a COLD
  • Sore throat is mild and COUGH is the main symptom

WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR

Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If

  • Severe difficulty breathing (e.g., struggling for each breath, unable to speak)

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Difficulty breathing and is not from a blocked or stuffy nose
  • Fever of 103° F (39.4° C) or higher
  • Signs of dehydration (e.g., no urine in more than 12 hours, very dry mouth, very lightheaded, etc.)
  • New drooling (can't swallow fluids) or having great difficulty swallowing
  • Unable to open mouth completely

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Sore throat pain is severe
  • Pus on the tonsils (back of throat) along with fever
  • Widespread rash (e.g., trunk and abdomen)
  • Earache or sinus pain/pressure
  • Fever present for more than 3 days
  • Exposure in the past 2 weeks to someone who had Strep Throat
  • You have a history of having rheumatic fever
  • You have diabetes mellitus or a weakened immune system (e.g., HIV positive, cancer chemotherapy, chronic steroid treatment, splenectomy)

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Sore throat is the only symptom and lasts longer than 2 days
  • Sore throat is mild and lasts longer than 4 days

Self Care at Home If

  • Mild sore throat and you don't think you need to be seen

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR MILD SORE THROAT

  1. For Relief of Sore Throat Pain:
    • Sip warm chicken broth or apple juice.
    • Suck on hard candy or a throat lozenge (over-the-counter).
    • Gargle warm salt water three times daily (1 teaspoon of salt in a 8 oz of warm water).
    • Avoid cigarette smoke.
  2. Pain Medicines:
    • For pain relief, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
    Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol):
    • Take 650 mg by mouth every 4-6 hours. Each Regular Strength Tylenol pill has 325 mg of acetaminophen.
    • Another choice is to take 1,000 mg every 8 hours. Each Extra Strength Tylenol pill has 500 mg of acetaminophen.
    • The most you should take each day is 3,000 mg.
    Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil):
    • Take 400 mg by mouth every 6 hours.
    • Another choice is to take 600 mg by mouth every 8 hours.
    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.
    Naproxen (e.g., Aleve):
    • Take 250-500 mg by mouth every 12 hours.
    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.
    Extra Notes:
    • Acetaminophen is thought to be safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old. Acetaminophen is in many OTC and prescription medicines. It might be in more than one medicine that you are taking. You need to be careful and not take an overdose. An acetaminophen overdose can hurt the liver.
    • Caution: Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • Caution: Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of medicine. Do not take ibuprofen or naproxen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • Before taking any medicine, read all the instructions on the package
  3. Fever Medicines:

    • For fevers above 101° F (38.3° C) take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    • The goal of fever therapy is to bring the fever down to a comfortable level. Remember that fever medicine usually lowers fever 2 degrees F (1 - 1 1/2 degrees C).

    Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol):

    • Take 650 mg by mouth every 4-6 hours. Each Regular Strength Tylenol pill has 325 mg of acetaminophen.
    • Another choice is to take 1,000 mg every 8 hours. Each Extra Strength Tylenol pill has 500 mg of acetaminophen.
    • The most you should take each day is 3,000 mg.

    Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin, Advil):

    • Take 400 mg by mouth every 6 hours.
    • Another choice is to take 600 mg by mouth every 8 hours.
    • Use the lowest amount that makes your pain feel better.

    Extra Notes:

    • Acetaminophen is thought to be safer than ibuprofen in people over 65 years old. Acetaminophen is in many OTC and prescription medicines. It might be in more than one medicine that you are taking. You need to be careful and not take an overdose. An acetaminophen overdose can hurt the liver.
    • CAUTION: Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • CAUTION: Do not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of anti-inflammatory drug. Do not take ibuprofen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • Before taking any medicine, read all the instructions on the package
  4. Soft Diet: Cold drinks and milk shakes are especially good (Reason: swollen tonsils can make some foods hard to swallow).
  5. Liquids: Adequate liquid intake is important to prevent dehydration. Drink 6-8 glasses of water per day.
  6. Contagiousness: You can return to work or school after the fever is gone and you feel well enough to participate in normal activities. If your doctor determines that you have Strep throat, then you will need to take an antibiotic for 24 hours before you can return.
  7. Expected Course: Sore throats with viral illnesses usually last 3 or 4 days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Sore throat is the main symptom and it lasts longer than 24 hours
    • Sore throat is mild but lasts longer than 4 days
    • Fever lasts longer than 3 days
    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 11/18/2011

Last Revised: 11/19/2011

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 2000-2012. Self Care Decisions LLC; LMS, Inc.


Additional Resources:

 How to use the Adult Health Topics pages
 When to call the doctor
 Reviewers of Clinical Content

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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