Sore throat

Updated 31 March 2015

Causes of a sore throat

Most sore throats are caused by a virus, but there could also be bacterial or other types of causes.


Finding the cause of a sore throat is key in treating it effectively. A sore throat is a symptom of an underlying cause. The most common cause of a sore throat is viral pharyngitis (throat). This condition is usually self limiting and except for the discomfort resolves by itself within a couple of days.

There are, however, many other causes of a sore throat. The following is a summary if the most common ones:

Infective causes

Viral infections

By far the most common cause of a sore throat. This is due to:

               • Common Cold
               • Flu
               • Childhood infections like measles and chickenpox and croup

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections are less common than viral infection, but also a notable cause of a sore throat:

              • Strep throat – the most common bacterial cause of sore throat.
              • Whooping cough – characterised by a typical “whooping” sound at the end of a cough.

Non-infective causes

Allergies which may cause a post nasal drip. Post nasal drips irritates the throat and can lead to a sore throat.

Environmental factors:  heavy air conditioned rooms may dry out the air and cause an irritated throat. Ingested chemicals may irritate or even burn the throat the lower respiratory tract and digestive system.

Smoking, excessive alcohol intake and overwhelmingly spicey foods may cause a sore throat

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a well known cause for sore throat. Acidic stomach content may come back up the esophagus as high as the pharynx.

HIV infected people might often experience sore throats. It is important to have it looked at by a doctor. Fungal infections is very prevalent in HIV patients and esophageal candidiasis may become so severe that the patient can’t eat or drink anything.

Malignancies of the neck, tongue, larynx or any of the soft tissues of the oral cavity can be the cause of a sore throat. This is often associated with other symptoms like a change in voice, hoarseness and a finding it difficult to swallow food.  Occasionally you can also note blood in the saliva. 

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