Most sore throat are not caused by bacteria. Below are some common reasons for a sore throat.
What it feels like: Your throat becomes very sore over the course of a day and it becomes very painful to swallow. After about one day the sore throat is gone and it is followed by congestion and coughing.
What's really going on: A sore throat caused by a virus generally starts gradually and only lasts a day or two before going away.
How to treat it: Medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help. Rest and drink lots of fluids (especially water). Gargle with salt water (1/2 teaspoon in 8 oz. of warm water). If the sore throat does not go away or you are unsure if you have strep throat (see below), see a health care provider.
What it feels like: A sore throat caused by the beta-hemolytic streptococcus (strep) usually starts very suddenly and very severely. The pain may be accompanied by fever and red, swollen tonsils.
What's really going on: Strep throat is a common bacterial throat infection, especially in children. Some people are more susceptible than others to repeated infections.
How to treat it: If you are concerned that you may have strep, you should be seen by a healthcare provider. You will likely be tested for strep with a swab to the back of the throat to confirm the diagnosis. Although your body may clear the bacteria on its own, it is recommended to treat strep throat with antibiotics due to the risk of complications if left untreated.
If you were diagnosed with strep throat and your symptoms do not improve after three full days on the antibiotic, contact your healthcare provider. You may have a resistant strain of bacteria that requires an alternate antibiotic.
What it feels like: Your throat is continually raw and scratchy, and you may feel congested and itching. There may also be a pattern to your pain -- say, every September (hay fever), each time you pet the cat (Animal dander), or when you're around secondhand smoke.
What's really going on: Your throat pain is caused by postnasal drip triggered by allergies or nasal irritants.
How to treat it: When it comes to airborne allergens and irritants, avoidance is the best medicine. Reduce your exposure to dust mites, for example, by encasing your pillows and mattress in allergen proof covers. Antihistamine medications can help (e.g. Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, Benadryl) and are all over-the-counter. Certain nasal sprays (such as Flonase) can help when you have a persistent sore throat with congestion.
What it feels like: Your nagging sore throat is accompanied by pain or pressure behind and below your eyes and across your forehead. You may also have tooth pain or nasal congestion. Often this sore throat is worse in the morning and lessens throughout the day.
What's really going on: A sinus infection can cause mucus to drain down and irritate your throat (post-nasal drip). This dripping is usually worse when you are laying flat, which is why the sore throat is generally worse in the morning.
How to treat it: Sinus congestion can sometimes be relieved with over-the-counter decongestants containing pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine (Sudafed, Triaminic Expectorant). If symptoms are severe or last more than 10 days, see a health care provider.
What it feels like: Burning worsens after a meal and when you lie down. You may also notice heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth. No other cold or flu-like symptoms are present.
What's really going on: Your sore throat stems from stomach acid backing up into your esophagus (acid reflux).
How to treat it: If you smoke, quit. Avoid spicy, fatty, or acidic foods (citrus and tomato products), chocolate and peppermint. Cut down on the size of your meals, avoid eating within three hours of bedtime and elevate the head of your bed six inches. If you feel that your sore throat is caused by reflux there are numerous over-the-counter stomach acid medications, but make sure to see your healthcare provider if the symptoms do not improve.
What it feels like: Your throat is continually raw and your voice is hoarse, but you have no fever or malaise. Chances are you talk a lot--teaching, answering phones, making presentations.
What's really going on: You don't have to be a singer or public speaker to have laryngitis. You may simply be over/or misusing your voice, causing undue stress to the vocal chords.
How to treat it: Resting your voice is the best way to recover from soreness due to abuse. Follow these tips to reduce daily strain: Drink lots of liquid to stay hydrated: avoid whispering of frequently clearing your throat; speak in a normal tone at low volume and try not to compete with background noise; give emphasis by changing your intonation or using gestures; and see a speech therapist to learn how to use your diaphragm properly. If the problem persists, see an otolaryngologist.
What it feels like: Your chronic sore throat seems to crank up each winter. The scratchy dryness may be worse in the morning.
What's really going on: If your house is sealed tight and the heater's blasting, the air may be incredibly dry. You may also not be drinking enough water to keep your body hydrated.
How to treat it: Use a humidifier and stay hydrated.