Recurrent Sore Throats
A sore throat is pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that often worsens when you swallow. The most common cause of a sore throat (pharyngitis) is a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. A sore throat caused by a virus resolves on its own.
Strep throat (streptococcal infection), a less common type of sore throat caused by bacteria, requires treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications. Other less common causes of sore throat might require more complex treatment.
Symptoms of a sore throat can vary depending on the cause. Signs and symptoms might include:
- Pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat
- Pain that worsens with swallowing or talking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore, swollen glands in your neck or jaw
- Swollen, red tonsils
- White patches or pus on your tonsils
- Hoarse or muffled voice
Common infections causing a sore throat might result in other signs and symptoms, including:
- Runny nose
- Body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
Your or your child's doctor will start with a physical exam that will include:
- Using a lighted instrument to look at the throat, and likely the ears and nasal passages
- Gently feeling (palpating) the neck to check for swollen glands (lymph nodes)
- Listening to your or your child's breathing with a stethoscope
With this simple test, the doctor rubs a sterile swab over the back of the throat to get a sample of secretions. The sample will be checked in a lab for streptococcal bacteria, the cause of strep throat. Many clinics are equipped with a lab that can get a test result within a few minutes. However, a second, often more-reliable test is sometimes sent to a lab that returns results within 24 to 48 hours.
If the rapid, in-clinic test comes back positive, then you almost certainly have a bacterial infection. If the test comes back negative, then you likely have a viral infection. Your doctor might wait, however, for the out-of-clinic lab test to determine the cause of the infection.
A sore throat caused by a viral infection usually lasts five to seven days and doesn't require medical treatment. However, to ease pain and fever, many people turn to acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or other mild pain relievers. Use acetaminophen for the shortest time possible and follow label directions to avoid side effects.
Consider giving your child over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications designed for infants or children. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol, Infant's Feverall, others) or ibuprofen (Pediatric Advil, Motrin Infant, others) to ease symptoms.
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.