Sore Throats

Sore throats can be caused by many things. Viruses can lead to a sore throat. Bacteria can also cause a sore throat, as can smoking, breathing polluted air, drinking alcohol, hay fever, and other allergies. The infection is spread by sharing drinks, kissing, sneezing, nose blowing, and by contaminated objects passed from hand to mouth.

Symptoms of sore throats can include:

  • Painful, red throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes ("glands")
  • Pus
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Feeling "blah"

How to relieve sore throat discomfort:

  • Drink fluids: Clear liquids are most soothing and help to thin out the mucus at the back of your throat. Cold sodas, Popsicles, and mild (not citric) juices are often preferred although some people find warmer liquids feel better.
  • Gargle with a warm salt solution. This helps to soothe and heal. Add 1/2 teaspoon of table salt to 1 cup of warm tap water and gargle with this solution at least four times a day.
  • Throat lozenges give temporary relief of pain. Look for ingredients that contain phenol or end in -caine.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing, and properly dispose of used tissues.
  • Don't smoke: Smoking irritates and dries the mucous membranes that line the nose and throat.
  • Moist heat compresses (i.e. washcloths moistened with warm tap water) applied to the neck help swollen glands feel better.
  • Take aspirin or acetaminophen every four to six hours for fever and discomfort. Aspirin has anti-inflammatory properties and may be of more help in relieving pain from a swollen sore throat.
  • Take antibiotics only if directed by health care professionals. Antibiotics are useful and often necessary in treating bacterial infections; however, viruses do not respond to antibiotics.

Consult health care personnel:

  • If you have a fever higher than 101OF (38.3OC).
  • If your sore throat lasts more than five days.
  • If you see pus on your tonsils.
  • If you develop a sore throat after being in contact with someone diagnosed with strep throat.
  • If your sore throat seems severe and/or worsens quickly.
  • If you have a sore throat with a previous diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease, rheumatic fever, or heart murmur.
  • Anytime you are unsure of what to do.

A medical provider diagnoses strep throat by a visual inspection of the throat and evaluation of patient complaints. A throat culture can be taken by a health care professional to determine whether you have a viral or bacterial infection and if further medical treatment is needed.

Strep Throat
Strep throat is caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus. What's important and different about strep throat is that if it isn't treated it can sometimes result in rheumatic fever, which can damage the valves of the heart. Complications include rheumatic heart disease and glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney). Antibiotics are not given to relieve throat pain, but to prevent complications that can occur in untreated strep infections. If an antibiotic is prescribed, it is very important to take medication as instructed and finish course of treatment.

Symptoms of strep throat can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Painful swallowing
  • A bright red throat

At any time in the course of any illness, if you are having trouble breathing, prolonged vomiting, or difficulty swallowing, make an appointment at Student Health Services.

Resource Links:

v National Institute of Health. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (
v Medlineplus Health Information, National Library of Medicine.

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