yellow throat lozenges

sore throat symptoms:

important things to know.

We’ve all been there. Starting as a tickle or a dry, scratchy feeling, a sore throat can become severe enough to ruin your day, especially if it occurs with other symptoms like a fever.

Sore throat infections account for 2-4% of all yearly doctor visits1 and are one of the most common symptoms that MDLIVE doctors care for. Dr. Cynthia E. Collins, MDLIVE Clinical Medical Director, shares her recommendations for making sore throats a little easier to swallow.

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Get the facts on sore throats.

Because sore throats can signal the beginning of many types of illnesses, Dr. Collins explains common and more severe symptoms to watch out for, when you should get help from a doctor, and how to soothe a sore throat at home, so you can get back to feeling better faster.

sore throat

What causes a sore throat?

A sore throat is an infection usually caused by either a virus (pharyngitis) or bacteria (streptococcus or strep throat). Viral sore throats are much more common and typically resolve in a few days. Bacterial strep throat requires treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications.

Other causes of sore throat include: COVID-19, influenza, allergies, common cold, mononucleosis, gastroesophageal reflux, muscle strain, snoring, dry or cold air, smoke, and other irritants.2

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Common symptoms of a sore throat.3

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Sore throat

pain swallowing
Pain when swallowing
dry scratchy throat
Dry, scratchy throat
cover your mouth when you cough
Cough and runny nose

Strep throat

pain swallowing
Pain when swallowing
mouth open wide
Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
an open mouth reveals the tonsils
Red or swollen tonsils


  • 4Strep throat can only be accurately diagnosed with a throat culture swab.

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“For anything more than mild sore throat symptoms, especially if they disrupt your daily activities, it’s best to see a doctor. Getting help quickly from a doctor can help ease symptoms of the sore throat and help it go away faster. We also recommend that you see a doctor if one or more of the following symptoms accompanies your sore throat:

  • A sore throat that is severe and persistent

  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing

  • Swollen tonsils and white patches

  • Bad breath

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in neck

  • Headaches and body aches

  • High fever, chills, and malaise

  • Rash

  • Nausea or vomiting

What can I use to soothe a sore throat?

Over-the-counter treatments:

  • Pain relievers
  • Cough and cold medicines (ages 4+)
  • Lozenges
  • Throat-numbing sprays
  • Eucalyptus oil

Try these at-home remedies:

  • Lots of rest
  • Gargling with warm salt water, or baking soda and salt water
  • Tea
  • Honey
  • Clear liquids
  • Warm soup/broth
  • Ice cream, frozen yogurt
  • Ice chips, popsicles


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But AVOID these:

  • Crackers
  • Spicy foods and sauces
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee/soda
  • Vinegar
  • Orange juice
  • Dry snack foods (crackers, chips, pretzels, and popcorn)
  • Raw vegetables
  • Acidic food and drinks (citrus, tomatoes, and carbonated beverages)


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How you can get help from home.

MDLIVE board-certified doctors can help you feel better sooner. MDLIVE is a fast, affordable alternative to urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, and ERs.

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Talk to a doctor in 15 minutes or less


More convenient

Receive reliable care 24/7/365 by phone or video



Avoid germ-filled waiting rooms

MDLIVE board-certified doctors care for sore throats, colds, flu, and more than 80 common, non-emergency conditions.

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“The severity of a sore throat differs from person to person and depends on what is causing the sore throat. Most often, they result from a viral infection connected to another illness like colds or flu. And while you can’t prevent them entirely, it helps to stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and keep your immune system strong. So, if you have severe symptoms or are unsure what’s causing your sore throat, see a board-certified MDLIVE doctor in minutes for fast relief from your sore throat symptoms.”

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