Colds, the flu, and other viral infections
Viruses cause about 90 percent of sore throats (2). Among the viruses that cause sore throats are:
the common cold
influenza — the flu
mononucleosis, an infectious disease that’s transmitted through saliva
measles, an illness that causes a rash and fever
chickenpox, an infection that causes a fever and an itchy, bumpy rash
mumps, an infection that causes swelling of the salivary glands in the neck
2. Strep throat and other bacterial infections
Bacterial infections can also cause sore throats. The most common one is strep throat, an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.
Strep throat causes nearly 40 percent of sore throat cases in children (3). Tonsillitis, and sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia can also cause a sore throat.
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When the immune system reacts to allergy triggers like pollen, grass, and pet dander, it releases chemicals that cause symptoms like nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, and throat irritation.
Excess mucus in the nose can drip down the back of the throat. This is called postnasal drip and can irritate the throat.
4. Dry air
Dry air can suck moisture from the mouth and throat, and leave them feeling dry and scratchy. The air is most likely dry in the winter months when the heater is running.
5. Smoke, chemicals, and other irritants
Many different chemicals and other substances in the environment irritate the throat, including:
cigarette and other tobacco smoke
cleaning products and other chemicals
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After September 11, more than 62 percent of responding firefighters reported frequent sore throats. Only 3.2 percent had had sore throats before the World Trade Center disaster (4).
Any injury, such as a hit or cut to the neck, can cause pain in the throat. Getting a piece of food stuck in your throat can also irritate it.
Repeated use strains the vocal cords and muscles in the throat. You can get a sore throat after yelling, talking loudly, or singing for a long period of time. Sore throats are a common complaint among fitness instructors and teachers, who often have to yell (4).
7. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus — the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
The acid burns the esophagus and throat, causing symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux — the regurgitation of acid into your throat.
A tumor of the throat, voice box, or tongue is a less common cause of a sore throat. When a sore throat is a sign of cancer, it doesn’t go away after a few days.