With winter just around the corner, this is often the time of year people experience a sore throat due to colds and other conditions.  Keep reading to learn more about what causes a sore throat and how best to treat it so you can enjoy the holiday season to the fullest.

What causes a sore throat?

Sore Thoat

A sore throat, or what you may hear your doctor describe as inflammation of the pharynx, can be caused by a virus or bacteria. A sore throat can also sometimes be caused by hay fever; allergies pet dander, pollen or mold, or even as a result of drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.

While a sore throat is often caused by the same virus as the common cold, it’s important to find out whether your sore throat is caused by a virus or by bacteria. Making this distinction is the key to allowing for a successful recovery. It also helps prevent incorrect use of medication and antibiotic resistance.

How do I know if my sore throat is from a cold or something else?

It can be difficult to tell. Most often, if you are experiencing a sore throat with a running nose and cough, you are dealing with a cold virus. But you could also be suffering from a bacterial infection like Strep throat. Your doctor may want to do tests to be sure.

What is the treatment for a sore throat caused by a virus?

If it’s a virus that is causing your sore throat, the bad news is that antibiotics won’t help. You can treat the symptoms though, which should help you ease the pain and discomfort. You just have to be patient and let your body fight off the virus, which usually takes around 7-10 days. If your sore throat lasts for 1-4 weeks, and you also have aches and fever consult your doctor for more information to rule out Mononucleosis (Mono).

What is the treatment for a sore throat caused by bacteria?

If your sore throat is caused by bacteria, it could be Strep throat or tonsillitis. Strep throat (caused by the Streptococcus bacteria) is commonly treated with antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin. Tonsillitis is the inflammation of the tonsils and is what causes sore throat and other symptoms. Symptoms can be similar for both Strep and tonsillitis.

Symptoms of Strep throat and Tonsillitis

Strep throat and tonsillitis often come with similar symptoms:

  • Sore, red throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting (usually in children suffering from Strep throat)
  • White patches in your throat or on your tonsils
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Large, red, swollen tonsils
  • Swollen, sore glands in your jaw or throat
  • Abdominal pain (usually in children)

Soothing your sore throat

No matter how you look at it, a sore throat is not fun, no matter what the cause. Here are some things you can do to ease your discomfort:

  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) which will help relieve pain. NOTE: Children should not be given acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) under 18 years of age.
  • Gargle with warm salt water (1 tsp. of salt in 1 cup of water)
  • Eat soft foods and frozen desserts, such as popsicles
  • Drink lots of fluids

What about a sore throat caused by allergies?

Sometimes a sore throat is a symptom of allergies. Know your allergy triggers and speak to your doctor about allergy or hay fever medication to manage your symptoms.

The best way to avoid catching a virus or bacteria, which are the most common causes of a sore throat, is to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes and mouth. And if you’re unsuccessful in dodging a winter cold or infection, remember to cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing to avoid passing it on to others.

For more information about a sore throat, ask your knowledgeable pharmacy team at the Canadian Compounding Pharmacy. Give us a call 416-239-3566.


The College of Family Physicians of Canada, 2011. Sore Throat: Easing the pain of sore throat. Accessed October, 2013