Sore Throat That's Painful to Talk and Swallow

A sore throat is characterized by a dry, scratchy and painful feeling in throat. Sore throat is among the common symptoms, which accounts for greater than 10 million doctor’s visits each year. The majority of the sore throats result from infections due to viruses or bacteria or by various environmental factors such as dust exposure. Although your sore throat hurts to swallow and talk, it usually gets better within a few days.

What Are the Causes of Sore Throat?

  1. Viral Pharyngitis

It is a type of sore throat that occurs due to a virus and is accompanied by a flu or cold. The other symptoms present are cough, fever, stuffy or runny nose, and headache. Symptoms usually go away within a week with self-care and rest. Viral pharyngitis is not treated by antibiotics.

Risk factors: Getting exposed to an infected person, being a health care worker, teacher or having a job in which you are in contact with many persons and smoking.

Prevention: Viral pharyngitis is a contagious illness; hence, you should take the following steps to prevent the spread of disease:

  • Wash your hands often, in case you are suffering from sore throat, particularly if you have to be around people
  • Also wash your hands often, especially if you have to be around someone suffering from sore throat
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils and glasses while you are sick
  • Don’t kiss sick people
  • While coughing or sneezing, keep a cover on your mouth

Self care: Take the following self-care measures:

  • Gargle with lukewarm water containing salt
  • Take medicines that relieve pain and fever such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Drink lukewarm liquids to help soothe your throat
  • Suck throat lozenges or hard candies
  • Take plenty of rest
  • Do not smoke
  1. Strep Throat

It is an infection of the throat caused due to streptococcal bacteria. Apart from sore throat hurts to swallow and talk, other symptoms are red throat, fever, white colored patches on throat and swelling of lymph glands. Symptoms of strep throat are more severe in comparison to viral sore throat. It is more common in children in the age group of 5-15 years. Some children may develop a rash that is referred to as scarlet fever.

Strep throat is spread by contact with nasal secretions or saliva of infected person. Untreated strep throat may result in serious complications such as kidney problems, rheumatic fever, meningitis, throat abscesses and middle ear infections.

Risk Factors: Exposure to an infected person and young age.

Prevention: Strep throat is a contagious illness; hence, the following steps should be taken to prevent the spread of illness:

  • Wash your hands often both when you are having the illness and when you are being exposed to someone with the illness
  • Avoid sharing food, eating utensils or glasses while you are sick
  • Avoid sharing towels or napkins
  • Don’t kiss sick people
  • Keep a cover on your mouth, while coughing or sneezing

Treatment: Antibiotics are given to treat strep throat, which helps in shortening the duration of the illness and preventing potentially severe complications.

Self Care: The following self care measures should be taken:

  • Gargle with lukewarm water containing salt
  • Take OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Take enough rest
  • Do not smoke
  • Suck on throat lozenges or hard candies
  • Eat or drink cold beverages or foods to soothe your throat
  • After strep throat infection, throw your toothbrush to prevent re-infection
  1. Allergies

An allergic reaction occurs when the body reacts to an otherwise harmless substance, referred to as allergen. The common allergens are dust, mold, dust mites, cockroach droppings, pet hair, detergents and pet saliva and dander. The symptoms include sore throat hurts to swallow and talk, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, cough, swollen or enlarged lymph glands and red eyes. Allergies may also trigger attack of asthma in people suffering from asthma.

Symptoms of allergy develop either immediately post exposure to a foreign substance (allergen) or gradually over a few hours.

Treatment for allergy includes:

  • Over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines
  • Eye drops
  • Immunotherapy or allergy shots
  • Nasal sprays containing corticosteroids
  • Medicines to decrease swelling and to prevent symptoms of allergy

Self Care Measures: The best method to prevent symptoms of allergy is avoidance of allergy triggers. Take the following steps:

  • Place box springs, pillows and mattresses in fabrics that are allergen-proof
  • Wash beddings in hot water at least once in a week
  • Use vacuum containing HEPA filter to vacuum your house once in a week
  • Don’t keep a pet if you are allergic to them
  • Clean any molds present in basements or bathrooms
  • Depending on your symptoms, irrigation of your nasal passages, such as by using Neti pot can help
  1. Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is characterized by painful swelling of the tonsils, which are lymph nodes present in the back of throat. Tonsillitis may be caused by infection with viruses or bacteria. It is particularly common in young children. Apart from sore throat, symptoms of tonsillitis include fever, bad breath and swollen and enlarged glands.

Treatment includes:

  • Antibiotics are given for bacterial tonsillitis
  • OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen are given to relieve pain and fever
  • In some cases, adults or children who have recurring tonsillitis, difficulty swallowing or breathing problems may require surgical removal of tonsils

Self Care

  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Gargle with warm salt water
  • Take cool popsicles or liquids to soothe your throat
  1. GERD/Heartburn

Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach regurgitates into the esophagus and irritates its lining. The cause of regurgitation of stomach acid is weakness of muscles of esophageal sphincter. Frequent heartburn is referred to as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disorder. Symptoms include sore throat hurts to swallow and talk, discomfort or pain in chest, cough, belching and wheezing at night. Symptoms of GERD are made worse by caffeine, alcohol, fried, fatty or spicy food, chocolate, consuming large meals, smoking, stress, lying down post meal, certain medicines and wearing tight belts or clothes.


  • Take OTC antacids and medicines to relieve your symptoms.
  • Avoid drinks and foods that worsen your symptoms.

Self Care

  • Eat small meals
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose excess weight
  • Don’t lie down for at least 2-3 hours post a meal
  • Reduce your stress
  • Avoid consumption of alcohol
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes

When Should You See a Physician for a Sore Throat?

You should see a physician if any of the following more severe symptoms develop:

  • Trouble in swallowing
  • Severe pain in throat
  • Trouble in breathing or there is pain while breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Soreness in joints
  • Difficulty in opening of mouth
  • Fever of greater than 101 degree F
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Pain in ears
  • Bloody phlegm or saliva
  • Sore throat, which persists for greater than one week
  • Pain in chest
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