What are Common Causes of Sore Throat and Swollen Glands?

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  • Originally Written By: K. Tully
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2018
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A number of different things can cause a sore throat and swollen glands, but the biggest causes usually tend to be airborne viruses, bacterial infections, and allergies. Tonsillitis, which is an inflammation of the tonsils, is sometimes also to blame, and a number of environmental and lifestyle choices may also contribute. People who smoke or spend a lot of time in smoky places, for instance, are often more susceptible to soreness and swelling, and these symptoms also tend to be more common when the air quality is bad, either due to pollution or allergens like pollen and other plant debris. The condition isn’t usually serious and most swelling will go away all on its own, though there are a number of treatments and medications that can lessen a person’s days of suffering. A lot depends on the exact cause and the specifics of the infection at issue.

Airborne Viruses

Airborne viruses are the single most common cause of a sore throat and swollen glands. While there are many viruses that can lead to this condition, the ones most commonly contracted are the coronavirus and the rhinovirus. These two are the leading causes of the common cold and the influenza B virus, commonly known as the flu.


Infections often depend a lot on the weather and other environmental conditions. People typically tend to contract the coronavirus during the winter, for instance, while the rhinovirus is usually most contagious in the fall and spring months. The influenza B virus can typically be contracted at any time of the year. Long-term fatigue can make the body more vulnerable to cold and flu viruses, as can poor hand washing habits and exposure to other infected individuals. Things like air humidity can also make a difference when it comes to how long the virus will live on things like doorknobs, as well as how quickly and easily it will spread from person to person through inhalation.

Bacterial Infections

The most common bacterial cause of a sore throat accompanied by swollen glands is the Streptococcus bacteria, which results a condition known as strep throat. This bacterium is mostly spread from person to person during winter months when people spend more time together indoors where germs are more easily shared. The symptoms of strep throat are much more painful than those of a cold or flu. Unlike its viral counterparts, however, strep throat can be successfully treated with antibiotics in most cases.


Tonsillitis is another major sore throat and swollen glands culprit. The tonsils, which sit at the far back of the throat, are part of the immune system and help capture germs and infectious pathogens that enter the airways. They don’t normally fall victim to illness themselves, but they can; when their tissues become inflamed, the condition is usually known as “tonsillitis,” and it can be quite painful.

In most cases, tonsillitis is caused by the coronavirus and the rhinovirus, the same viruses responsible for the common cold, but this condition presents with the more severe symptoms associated with strep throat. Its causes and symptoms can be summed up as a compilation of the common cold and strep throat. In some instances tonsillitis is transmitted by way of bacteria, similarly to strep throat. The inflammation will often go down all on its own, but in extreme cases — particularly when people suffer from multiple recurring infections — healthcare providers may recommend that the tonsils be removed entirely.


Respiratory allergic reactions like itchy, watery eyes and a drippy, sneeze-filled nose, can also contribute. So-called “hay fever,” also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is a common allergic reaction to pollen and is the leading cause of long-term allergy-related throat pain. Excessive mucus produced by allergies and sinuses and the resulting post-nasal drip often results in a sore throat. There isn’t usually an infection involved with post-nasal drip, but the excess mucus builds up in the throat and can cause irritation and swelling.

Lifestyle Choices and Environmental Impacts

Other causes of a sore throat and swollen glands include environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke, airborne chemicals found in commercial cleansers, or excessively dry, warm air. Air pollution can be a contributing factor as well. Additionally, a consistent strain on the vocal chords, such as yelling and cheering during a sporting event, can lead to a soreness.

When to Get Help

In general, a sore throat that lasts longer than two weeks or a severely sore throat that lasts longer than five days can be an indication a more serious medical condition and should be addressed by a medical professional, particularly if it is accompanied by swollen glands. Anyone who is concerned about the swelling they notice in their throat and glands is usually encouraged to get a check-up, even if only to confirm that the condition is not serious. Healthcare providers are frequently also able to give more personalized recommendations about drugs and other treatment plans when they are seeing patients face to face.


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Post 1

A sore/scratchy throat is probably nothing to worry about, but swollen glands should get medical attention. Sinus drainage can cause a scratchy throat, but swollen lymph glands can be a sign of an infection or virus, and a doctor should be consulted.

When I was a kid and had a sore throat, the first thing my mom always did was check to see if my lymph glands were swollen. If they were, I could count on going to the doctor. If not, she fixed some warm, salty water for me to gargle and we waited to see if the sore throat would get worse.

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