How to Recognize When it’s More Than Just a Sore Throat

Woman sitting on couch clutching her sore throat while drinking herbal honey and lemon tea

A sore throat is one of those conditions that most likely reminds you of your childhood. Back then, it was simple to deal with a sore throat: staying home from school (watching game shows) and eating chicken noodle soup. Or perhaps you eased your sore throat with cough drops and your favorite Netflix show.

Whatever the case, your sore throat was a kind of routine childhood illness. And you still basically consider a sore throat to be routine. You expect it to clear up by itself after a few days.

But what if it’s more than a common sore throat? A sore throat can, in some instances, be an indication of something more serious happening. But how do you know when that may be?

Common sore throat causes

A sore throat, regrettably, comes along with many ailments. In part, that’s because of the way your body tends to ward off infections (lots of mucus leading to lots of irritation). Many of the following viral sore throats are fairly common as a result:

  • Chicken Pox: While typically related to the mosquito-bite-like bumps that develop (and itch), chicken pox can also cause several other symptoms, and that includes a sore throat.
  • The Common Cold: As you’re probably aware, the common cold can frequently lead to a runny or stuffy nose. Post-nasal drip can trickle down into the throat, creating discomfort and soreness.
  • COVID-19: The novel coronavirus has been known to cause sore throats in some individuals who develop symptoms. The Delta and Omicron variants have this indicator more frequently and severely.
  • Influenza: A wide variety of symptoms, including a sore throat, come along with the flu. Other symptoms could include sore joints and high fever.
  • Mononucleosis (often simply called “mono”): Often, called “the kissing disease,” mono is spread via saliva and usually results in extreme fatigue.
  • Croup: This is an infection of the upper respiratory system, and it’s extremely common in children. In addition to the sore throat, those with Croup will develop a unique “barking” cough.

Antibiotics will have no effect on viral ailments. So your doctor will typically just tell you to get rest and allow your body to heal! For symptom relief, you can use sore throat remedies like cough drops and fluids.

Depending on the particular virus, this will vary. In some cases, steroids or antivirals can help. Find treatment if any of these viral symptoms linger.

Common, non-viral causes of sore throats

Often, it’s a bacterial issue that triggers a sore throat, not a virus. This is the case with Strep Throat, which is an extremely common bacterial illness. Your sore throat will clear up in a matter of days with antibiotics for strep throat.

There are even a few common causes that have nothing to do with viruses or bacteria. These include:

  • Heartburn or acid reflux.
  • Irritation from weather (for instance, high heat or frigid cold), particularly in very low humidity.
  • Allergies or allergic responses.
  • Soreness from pollutants and chemicals.

Can a sore throat mean something more serious is going on?

Usually, a sore throat will be the result of a common cold or flu. But there are instances where a serious illness can be the cause of a sore throat. Some of those serious ailments include the following:

  • Tumors: There are circumstances where the sore throat is triggered by the tumor itself. Inflammation can put pressure on areas of your throat as the tumor gets bigger. If the tumor is found in the throat, larynx, or tongue this is especially true.
  • Cancer: One of a number of forms of cancer can, in some situations, cause a sore throat. A combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation will usually be used to treat these cancers.
  • Chronic tonsillitis: There are times when chronic infections attack your tonsils. When these infections occur too often, the tonsils must be removed. Tonsillitis will cause a very sore throat and so will the surgery to remove them.
  • Thyroid issues: Your thyroid generally dispenses certain hormones throughout your body. Your thyroid is in your neck, so when it stops working properly or becomes swollen for any reason, this can lead to sore throat symptoms.
  • HIV infections: Your lymph nodes are a crucial part of your immune system. Sore throat symptoms can manifest when HIV causes the lymph nodes to fill up with fluid.
  • Epiglottitis: Prompt treatment is needed for this potential fatal inflammation of the epiglottis. It can sometimes be the result of trauma but more commonly is caused by an infection of the Hib (haemophilus influenza type B).

How will I recognize if my sore throat is common… or serious?

So, you’re experiencing a sore throat and none of your normal sore throat remedies seem to be working. Naturally, you want to know if you should be concerned. The good news is that in almost all cases, a sore throat will clear up in only a few days.

But you might have a more serious condition if you notice any of the following:

  • You have a high fever: If you’re experiencing a fever, and you can’t keep your temp down using over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, contact us immediately.
  • Take an at-home Covid test: Also think about the possibility that your sore throat may be a result of COVID-19. In this way, others can be safeguarded from catching Covid from you.
  • Your sore throat isn’t clearing up: Something more serious could be taking place if your sore throat doesn’t clear up after 3=5 days (even if you’re dealing with severe strep throat). Make sure you schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible if your sore throat isn’t improving.
  • Trouble breathing: You should contact a medical professional right away if your sore throat is interfering with your breathing.

These aren’t the only indications that you might be experiencing something more significant. If, for instance, you notice any sores or lumps, be certain to schedule an appointment with us.

So here’s the general rule of thumb: sore throats are quite common and will usually go away on their own. But if any symptoms linger for longer than a couple of weeks, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with us. In the meantime, rest and binge your favorite streaming shows.


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Questions? Talk To Us.