(Viral Sore Throat)
Viral pharyngitis is a sore, inflamed throat caused by a virus.
Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
The following viruses are most likely to cause a sore throat:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
- Age: children
- Cigarette smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
Living or working in close quarters such as:
- Military forces
- Excess fatigue
- Poor eating habits
- Poor hygiene
- Recent illness
- Sore, red, swollen throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Decreased appetite
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck and behind the ears
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Most viral sore throats are diagnosed based on the symptoms and examination of the throat. Often, the throat will be swabbed to make sure that the sore throat isn't due to strep infection, which requires treatment with antibiotics.
There are no treatments to cure a viral sore throat. Most cases of viral pharyngitis heal on their own within about a week's time. A sore throat may be the initial symptom of an HIV infection.
Treatments to relieve symptoms until the infection heals, include:
Over-the-Counter Pain Medication
Sore throat pain can be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving a child aspirin.
- Gargling with warm salt water can help relieve a sore throat.
- Using throat lozenges every couple of hours can help relieve sore throat and cough.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Hot drinks and soups can be very soothing for a sore throat.
- Consider running a cool-mist humidifier. It can help keep your nasal passages moist and reduce congestion, two factors that can worsen a sore throat.
To reduce your chance of getting a viral sore throat:
- Practice good hygiene, including careful hand washing.
- Don't share food or beverages with other people.
- Avoid areas where people are smoking.
Viral sore throat is a “diagnosis of exclusion” made when sore throat is present and strep is regarded as unlikely. Even in the absence of strep, some types of sore throats need further tests or treatment.
Be sure to seek care if your sore throat is worsening, is associated with new, or serious symptoms, especially difficulty breathing, weakness, chills, or is not resolving within the time frame that your doctor predicted.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery
Canadian Family Physician
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org .
Coco A, Kleinhans E. Prevalence of primary HIV infection in symptomatic ambulatory patients. Ann Fam Med . 2005;3(5):400-404.
Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult . 2001 ed. Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2001.
Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases . 5th ed. Churchill Livingstone, Inc.; 2000.
Recognizing primary HIV-1 infection. Infect Med . 1999;16(2):104-108,110.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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