What are Common Causes of Sore Throat and Difficulty Swallowing?

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  • Written By: Amy Hunter
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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A person who has a sore throat and difficulty swallowing most often has a virus, such as the common cold, although bacteria, allergies, other illnesses, tumors, or environmental issues can cause these symptoms. Young people are most prone to developing a sore throat, because of the frequency that they develop viruses. Most of these cases are not serious and go away without needing to visit a medical professional.

The most common viruses that lead to a sore throat and trouble swallowing are the viruses associated with the common cold, mononucleosis, and influenza. Less frequently, someone infected with measles, the croup, or chicken pox may experience these symptoms. They can also be caused by strep throat, tonsillitis, and diphtheria, which are bacterial illnesses.

People with HIV infection may develop a sore throat and have difficulty swallowing due to compromised immunity and the presence of oral thrush or cytomegalovirus. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may experience trouble swallowing and develop a sore throat because of stomach acid backing up into the windpipe, irritating the throat. Tumors that develop in the throat, or on the voice box or tongue, can lead to similar symptoms.


Smokers and people exposed to second-hand smoke may experience throat problems as well. Exposure to chemicals, either in the workplace or from household cleansers, can lead to a sore throat as well. Exposure to allergies and air pollution can also irritate the throat, making it sore and cause problems swallowing. Yelling, such as at concerts or sporting events, can strain the vocal cords and lead to these problems too.

Most people can treat a sore throat with simple home remedies. They should drink more water than usual to soothe the throat and keep the body hydrated. A solution of 0.5 teaspoon (3 grams) of salt in 1 cup (236.5 ml) of warm water can be gargled to help relieve pain. A patient can also add the juice of one lemon and a spoonful of honey to a glass of hot water and stir until the honey dissolves, then drink the liquid, once it is a comfortable drinking temperature. Resting the voice can also ease discomfort. If the symptoms are combined with a fever, rash, pus in the back of the throat, trouble breathing or swollen lymph nodes, the illness may require treatment from a healthcare professional.


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