When a person breathes, air travels into the nasal passages and down the throat, or trachea. If harmful organisms such as bacteria or viruses are in the air, some of them become trapped on the tonsils or in the throat and others travel into the body. These harmful organisms can lead to illnesses that cause a sore and burning throat.
The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose and the throat 1. More than 100 viruses can cause the common cold, but MayoClinic.com notes that the most common virus is the rhinovirus 1. Although extremely bothersome, the common cold does not cause any serious health problems or complications 1. The common cold is highly contagious and can be spread through airborne droplets or direct contact with someone who is infected 1. Because the common cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective against treating it 1. MayoClinic.com recommends the use of over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers until the infection goes away.
A Sore and Swollen Throat
Strep throat is an infection caused by group A streptococcus bacteria and is the most common bacterial infection of the throat, according to MedlinePlus 2. The infection is contagious and can be spread from direct contact with saliva or nasal secretions of an infected individual. The most common symptom of strep throat includes a sore, burning throat that may be red in color and covered with white patches 2. Other symptoms of strep throat include:
- loss of appetite
- swollen lymph nodes
- difficulty swallowing 2
Because strep throat is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are successful in treating it 2. MedlinePlus notes that antibiotics are usually taken for 10 days and that the entire round of antibiotics must be taken even if symptoms go away 2.
Mononucleosis is a viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Unlike other conditions that cause a sore and burning throat, the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that mononucleosis is not easily spread 3. The infection is often referred to as the kissing disease because it is mostly transmitted through contact with infected saliva. No available medical treatment are available for mononucleosis. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends bed rest, increased fluid intake, saltwater rinses and over-the-counter pain relievers until the infection goes away 3.
A Sore and Swollen Throat
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- Mayo Clinic: Common Cold
- MedlinePlus: Strep Throat
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Mononucleosis
- Martin JM. The mysteries of streptococcal pharyngitis. Curr Treat Options Pediatr. 2015;1(2):180-189. doi:10.1007/s40746-015-0013-9
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Group A streptococcal (GAS) disease. Updated November 1, 2018.
- Penn Medicine. Strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis). Updated July 11, 2019.
- Wessels MR. Pharyngitis and scarlet fever. In: Ferretti JJ, Stevens DL, Fischetti VA, editors. Streptococcus pyogenes: Basic Biology to Clinical Manifestations. Oklahoma City, OK: University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Updated March 25, 2016.
- Shulman ST, Bisno AL, Clegg HW, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis and management of group A streptococcal pharyngitis: 2012 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2012;55(10):e86-102. doi:10.1093/cid/cis629
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.