Sore throat and throat infection

General information

Soreness in the throat may be caused by viral or bacterial infections in the throat or neck (pharynx, tonsils, thyroid) or damage to the mucous membrane. Nasal congestion due to a common cold or allergy may also force you to breathe through the mouth, which dries the throat causing pain. Many substances irritate the mucous membranes in the throat, which may also cause pain (chemicals, cigarettes, dust). If you have a feeling of a lump in the throat or difficulty swallowing, this may be caused by tension around the throat or a nervous disorder or even incorrect use of the voice.

Typical symptoms of viral infections include coughing, a blocked nose, huskiness, conjunctivitis, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, blisters inside the mouth and rashes associated with viral infections. Throat pain often radiates into the ears, even though the ears are not infected.

In chronic throat infections, the throat is constantly slightly sore and white, with hard and foul-tasting tonsil stones.

Typical findings in bacterial tonsillitis (Group A streptococcus; “strep throat”) include the rapid onset of the illness, severe pain in the throat, high temperature (over 38°C), white spots on the tonsils or sore and swollen glands under the jaws, and headache. The symptoms of Streptococcus A infection usually do not include a cough or blocked nose. The bacterial infection in confirmed with a bacterial throat culture or a rapid strep test.

Self-care

A sudden viral throat infection is usually mild and gets better on its own, but sometimes the symptoms last longer. Usually, bacterial infections also heal without treatment.

You can treat a sore throat at home:

Hot drinks, anti-inflammatory medicines and painkillers reduce pain. You can also try lozenges that numb the throat. The pharmacy staff will help you choose the right product. Drink plenty of fluids, and if you have a high temperature, you should drink more than usual. Avoid intense exercise while you are ill.

When should you seek medical advice?

You should seek medical advice if

  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you have swelling in your throat, the neck or the face
  • your general health suddenly becomes much worse
  • you have difficulty opening your mouth
  • you have difficulty swallowing fluids or saliva
  • your speech becomes slurred
  • the pain is more noticeable on one side
  • you have a foreign object in your throat
  • you have corrosive substance in your throat
  • your throat feels more painful when lying down

If your symptoms don’t improve after one week and the pain gets worse despite home remedies, it is best to be in touch with healthcare professionals to assess your symptoms.

This Self-care instruction has been produced in collaboration with Duodecim Terveyskirjasto

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Updated  8.6.2020