A sore throat is the primary symptom of pharyngitis which is the inflammation of the throat (pharynx). The terms “sore throat” and “pharyngitis” are often used interchangeably.
Symptoms of a sore throat may vary depending on the cause. Sore throats can be painful and annoying, causing fever and chills, as well as general discomfort. Other signs and symptoms may include: pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat that worsens with swallowing or talking, difficulty swallowing, dry throat, sore and swollen glands in your neck or jaw as well as red swollen tonsils. White patches or pus can appear on your tonsils and a hoarse or muffled voice may be present.
Tonsillitis, viral pharyngitis, mononucleosis, and streptococcal infection (strep throat) are among the most common causes of sore throats. Viral illnesses that cause a sore throat are common colds, flu (influenza), mononucleosis (mono), measles, chickenpox, and also croup, a common childhood illness characterized by a harsh, barking cough. Bacterial infections that can cause a sore throat include: Strep throat, which is caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus and Whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. Determining if it is viral or bacterial is important as strep infection can cause other more serious illnesses. Testing can determine strep infection, often referred to as a rapid strep screen. A swab of the throat is done and tested. A blood test can indicate mononucleosis or an elevated white blood cell count due to infection. Viral infections can be treated symptomatically; strep and other bacterial infections require treatment with antibiotics.
Rarely, an infected area of tissue (abscess) in the throat causes a sore throat. Another rare cause of a sore throat is a condition that occurs when the small cartilage “lid” that covers the windpipe swells, blocking airflow (epiglottitis). Both causes can block the airway, creating a medical emergency.