There are several different types of infections that can cause a sore throat (medically known as pharyngitis). Viral infections are the most common cause of a sore throat. In some viral cases, a person's only symptom might be a sore throat (viral pharyngitis).
Other times, the infection might cause other symptoms. This is because the same viruses that cause viral pharyngitis also cause upper respiratory infections, like the common cold, flu, or sinus infections (sinusitis).
Some clues that a sore throat might be from a virus include:
Irritation of the eyes (conjunctivitis or pink eye).
The most common cause of a viral sore throat is a rhinovirus, affecting up to 20 percent of people. Other viruses that can cause a sore throat include:
Specific symptoms can vary with each type of virus. Besides a sore throat, symptoms commonly seen with viral pharyngitis include fever, runny nose, nasal congestion, irritation or redness of the eyes (pink eye), cough, and/or hoarseness.
With time (about two to five days), viral throat infections improve on their own, without the need for antibiotics. While the body fights the infection, home treatments can be used to decrease symptoms.
Getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids are the first recommendations for treating a sore throat caused by a virus. Other options for decreasing symptoms include pain medicines, oral rinses, and throat lozenges.
(For more detail on viral pharyngitis, click Sore Throat Causes, Sore Throat Symptoms, and Sore Throat Remedies. These articles offer an in-depth look at what causes a sore throat, possible symptoms that may occur along with a sore throat, and possible treatment options you can try at home.)
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: ArthurSchoenstadt, MD
List of references (click here):
Cooper RJ, Hoffman JR, Bartlett JG, et al. Principles of appropriate antibiotic use for acute pharyngitis in adults: background. Ann Intern Med 2001;134:509.
Simon H. Approach to the Patient with Pharyngitis. In: Primary Care Medicine: Office Evaluation and Management of the Adult Patient. 3rd ed. Philadelphia (PA): J.B. Lippincott Company;1995.
Bisno AL. Acute pharyngitis. N Engl J Med 2001;344:205.
Bisno AL, Gerber MA, Gwaltney JM, et al. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of group A streptococcal pharyngitis. Clin Infect Dis 2002;35:113.
King BR. An evidence-based approach to the evaluation and treatment of pharyngitis in children. Pediatric Emerg Med Pract 2007;4:1.
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