What Causes a Sore Throat on One Side?

Patti Kate

There are many factors that can cause a sore throat on one side, including abscesses in the throat or tonsils, swollen glands, and infected lymph nodes. Vocalizing excessively, through shouting, singing, or even speaking, can also cause problems. In some cases, dental issues, such as an impacted tooth, can be connected to single-sided throat pain as well, as can environmental factors, like exposure to harsh chemicals.

A crossection of the human head, including the throat.
A crossection of the human head, including the throat.

Medical Causes

Bacterial infections, such as strep, can result in a sore throat on one side. When bacteria invades the throat, it can cause the tissues to swell up and make them feel scratchy or sore. An infection in other parts of the head, such as in one ear or the sinuses, can also result in a sore throat on one side. Ear infections can irritate nerves connecting the ear and throat, causing discomfort in both areas. Mucus may drip from the sinuses into the throat when someone has a sinus infection, causing irritation on one side.

Cigarette smoke can irritate the lining of the throat.
Cigarette smoke can irritate the lining of the throat.

Glands and lymph nodes around the throat may swell when the body is fighting off an infection. Many people develop swollen or tender lymph nodes on one or both sides of the neck when they are coming down with a cold or flu. While this is generally a natural response to common illnesses, it can cause pain on one side and difficulty swallowing.

Singing for extended periods of time can cause small nodules on the vocal cords.
Singing for extended periods of time can cause small nodules on the vocal cords.

A peritonsillar abscess is a rare condition caused when a bacterial infection develops on one tonsil, usually as a complication of the more common illness, tonsillitis. As the bacterial colony grows, it causes swelling and packets of pus on the tonsil, which may lead to severe discomfort on one side. A person with a peritonsillar abscess may have trouble swallowing and a high fever. This condition is often treated with antibiotics, but draining or removing the tonsils may be required.

Swollen glands may cause a sore throat on one side.
Swollen glands may cause a sore throat on one side.

Throat aches caused by minor bacterial and viral infections, such as the common cold, usually clear up on their own. If the infection gets worse or lasts for several weeks, taking antibiotics or antiviral drugs may become necessary. Usually, once the medication has a chance to work, throat pain and other symptoms go away.

Throat lozenges can help relieve throat pain.
Throat lozenges can help relieve throat pain.

Vocal Nodules

Occasionally, people who use their voices excessively may develop a sore throat on one side. Talking or singing loudly for extended periods of time can sometimes cause small growths, called nodules, on the vocal cords. While these nodules are non-cancerous and not considered dangerous, they can result in chronic sore throat and other symptoms, such as hoarseness. Singers, actors, and others who perform loudly for extended periods of time are the most common victims of this condition.

Maintaining near total silence for several weeks can sometimes allow pain to subside and lets vocal nodules heal. For performers, this often includes avoiding singing or performing for several weeks, and talking only when it is absolutely necessary. In some serious cases, surgery to remove the nodules may be the only option to fully treat the condition.

Dental Causes

Some people may experience an itchy or painful throat after having dental work done. Sometimes, this is caused by breathing through the mouth throughout the procedure. Tiny pieces of debris from drilling can also cause temporary inflammation in the throat and pain on one or both sides. Most of the time, a sore throat caused by dental work subsides after a few hours; if it persists for several days, it can be a symptom of an infection.

Certain dental conditions, such as an impacted tooth which is a tooth that cannot break through the gums, can also result in swelling and pain in the mouth and on one side of the throat. If an impacted tooth is causing irritation, extracting it may be the only way to get total relief. Even though this can be an unpleasant procedure, getting the tooth extracted quickly will help stop the symptoms and prevent serious infections from developing in the throat and mouth.

Environmental Factors

Irritants in the air can occasionally be responsible for a sore throat. People with severe allergies may be more prone to respiratory inflammation, and may experience pain on one or both sides. Cigarette smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke can also irritate the lining of the throat and may cause discomfort. Avoiding exposure to these substances may be key to reducing the symptoms

Relieving Pain and Discomfort

While treating the underlying cause of a sore throat on one side will usually help get rid of the problem permanently, there are also ways to temporarily reduce throat pain. Some good home remedies include sipping warm tea with honey or using lozenges. Alternative medicine practitioners frequently recommend soothing herbs, such as slippery elm and chamomile. For pain that is associated with a cold or bronchitis, some over-the-counter cold medications can help reduce symptoms. If a sore throat on one side persists for several days, gets suddenly worse, or comes with a fever or vomiting, people should see a health care professional.

Antibiotics are effective against certain throat conditions, such as strep throat or abscesses.
Antibiotics are effective against certain throat conditions, such as strep throat or abscesses.

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Discussion Comments


My inner throat has been hurting. It feels like there is a lump there, but underneath my tonsils, though. What should I do?


I have had sore tonsils off and on for about a week or two now. I have no fever. Recently I was ill with the flu, a sinus infection and white spots on my tonsils, in that order. I took antibiotics and did a saltwater rinse, but had no improvement. There were also glandular changes in my pap. Is this related?


I've had long lasting sore throat and ear alternating sides, coming and going away. I went through many examinations and finally Xyzal (levocetirizine dihydrochloride) helped. All the pain is gone now. The soreness was caused by a dust mite allergy. I had another anti-allergy drug before (levocetirizine) which didn't help, but xyzal works great and my life quality has improved a lot.


My symptoms started with the sore throat from hell. I managed to sleep by dosing myself up on Paracetemol.

I went in to work the next day and could barely speak. The pain was quite bad so went to the pharmacist, who gave me some throat lozenges and Ibuprofen. The lozenges turned out to be useless, but the Ibuprofen gave some relief. By the evening I was producing an excess of saliva and could not swallow so I was spitting it out (in the bathroom obviously). I did not sleep a wink due to constant a nasal drip and was really worried that if I did I would choke. Strange thing was that despite the symptoms, I had no fever or sense of a chill.

I went back to work next day, but my symptoms had not improved and now the sore throat had become an earache as well, and my neck had also started to swell. I went home from work early and went home to rest - sleep was impossible.

After another sleepless night, I went to see my doctor, who advised me that I had tonsilitis but maybe some kind of infection as well, so I was prescribed penicillin, and took the first two at 10 a.m. By mid-afternoon, I started to feel a bit better and went to the bathroom to clear my throat. I spat out a horrible mixture of blood and pus. As horrible as it looked, I felt relief as I now realized it was some kind of abscess.

The upshot is, if you have pain on one side of your throat, no fever or sense of a chill do not rule out an abscess. Please do not endure what I did. See your doctor immediately.


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Strep throat almost always comes with a fever. I have had strep throat every winter for the past three years and every time I get it, I am also running a fever.


I'm starting to get worried about my sore throat problems. I had a sore throat about a week or so ago and it's back. Last time, both sides of my throat hurt but this time it's only one side. I'm a teenager and I haven't had any throat problems until this year. Does this mean I should have my tonsils removed or something? If anyone has any advice for me, that would be greatly appreciated.


EarlyForest, I hope you're feeling better now! Typically, strep throat causes a fever, or at least that's what I've heard. If you aren't running a fever, a viral infection is more probable. Still, the only sure way is to have your doctor examine you. Good luck and I hope you're on the mend.


When I was in university I would got a terrible ear infection and strep throat at the same time, and let me tell you, having a sore throat on one side and ear pain is absolutely the worst thing in the world.

I couldn't even sleep, I would just lie there and whimper, it hurt so badly.

I ended up having to go through two rounds of antibiotics before they finally took, but I ended up getting rid of it at last -- though not soon enough to suit me!


Could having a severe, sudden sore throat on one side be a sign of strep throat?

The morning I woke up with my throat terribly sore on one side, and I can't for the life of me figure out what's going on.

I am not running a fever, but my throat is just killing me. I've been drinking lots of tea with honey, and that seems to help, but I'd really like to figure out what it causing this!

Do you know what this could be? Do I need a strep test?


I usually get a sinus infection about once a year, and you're right, it does usually cause me to have a sore throat only on one side.

I always thought that it was weird to have this happen, but when I figured out that I was having a chronic sore throat and ear on one side in conjunction with my sinus infections, that cleared it up for me.

Apparently having a persistent sore throat on one side was my sign that one side of my sinuses got infected worse than the other -- the throat mucus produced by that was irritating my throat, and causing the soreness.

Luckily most sore throat remedies work whether you hurt on one side or both -- I don't know how you would go about tailoring one for just one side of the throat, come to think about it.

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