The duration of a sore throat depends on what’s causing it. Sore throats, also known as pharyngitis, can be acute, lasting only a few days, or chronic, lingering on until their underlying cause is addressed.
Most sore throats are the result of common viruses and resolve on their own within 3 to 10 days. Sore throats caused by a bacterial infection or allergies may last longer.
At-home treatments and prescribed medications can affect the length of time you experience symptoms from a sore throat, such as pain, scratchiness, and trouble swallowing.
Read on to learn more about sore throats and what you can do to improve your recovery.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, such as the flu or common cold. They can also be a symptom of other viral conditions, such as:
Sore throats caused by viruses don’t require antibiotics. They usually go away with minimal treatment of symptoms in 10 days or less.
At-home treatments and prescribed corticosteroids can reduce the discomfort of these sore throats, which typically go away when the underlying infection resolves.
Sore throats caused by mononucleosis
Unlike sore throats caused by other viruses, those associated with mononucleosis can last for as long as one month. Mononucleosis is an infectious viral disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
Antibiotics aren’t effective against mononucleosis, but corticosteroids can reduce the swelling, inflammation, and discomfort associated with sore throats caused by this condition.
Bacterial infections cause sore throats less often than viruses. When they do occur, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin. Antibiotics can shorten the duration of a sore throat quickly. They may help reduce pain and inflammation within one to two days.
When not taking antibiotics, bacterial infections and the sore throats they cause may last anywhere from a week to 10 days.
Sore throats caused by bacteria can sometimes be associated with a more serious illness. For example, sore throats caused by a bacteria called Fusobacterium can result in a complication called Lemierre’s syndrome. Sore throats caused by this condition may resolve within four to five days, but can then reoccur, along with other more serious symptoms.
Sore throats caused by strep throat
Strep throat is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus (group A streptococcus). Strep throat typically requires treatment from a doctor and may require antibiotics.
Once you begin antibiotic treatment, strep throat symptoms should dissipate quickly. You may begin to feel relief from symptoms within one to two days. After beginning antibiotics, your symptoms should disappear completely within one week or less.
Postnasal drip can result in sore throats. Some common causes of postnasal drip include:
- the common cold
- sinus infection
- gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- irritants, such as smoking cigarettes, air pollution, and allergens
Sore throats caused by postnasal drip may be chronic. That means your throat may be sore until the underlying cause of the postnasal drip is treated.
If you require intubation during surgery, you may have a sore throat when you wake up. During intubation, an endotracheal tube is inserted through the mouth and down the throat into an airway. Intubation is used to help you breathe with a ventilator if you’re unable to breathe on your own during surgery.
Postsurgical dehydration may also cause discomfort or scratchiness in the throat.
Drink fluids and speak as little as possible to avoid postsurgical sore throat. In many cases, symptoms should clear up within a few days. If you have a sore throat that lasts for more than a week following a surgical procedure, let your doctor know.
There are many techniques you can try at home for soothing and relieving sore throat pain. They include:
- Gargle with warm water and salt to loosen mucus and reduce swelling.
- Drink honey and lemon mixed into warm tea. This can help coat your throat, making it less scratchy. You can also experiment with different types of teas, such as chamomile or licorice root.
- Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or another pain-reducing medication.
- Drink lots of fluids to thin out mucus secretions from the sinuses and soothe the throat.
If you have a sore throat that’s causing excessive pain or lasts longer than 10 days, see your doctor. Also keep an eye on symptoms you may be experiencing, which might indicate more serious conditions that require antibiotics, such as strep throat. These symptoms include:
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- body aches
- nausea or vomiting
A sore throat may also indicate tonsillitis, which is an infection of the tonsils. It may be caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
Other symptoms of tonsillitis may include:
- swollen tonsils that look red, or are coated with white or yellow pus
- pain when swallowing
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- bad breath
- stiff neck
- stomach pain
Tonsillitis is most common in children ranging from preschool age to high school, but it can occur in adults, too.
If you or your child gets tonsillitis often, your doctor may determine that a tonsillectomy, or removal of your tonsils, will help.
The amount of time a sore throat lasts is determined by its cause. Sore throats are most often caused by viruses and often resolve on their own in less than a week.
Bacterial infections can also cause sore throats to occur. These may take longer to resolve completely.
It can be hard to tell the difference between a viral and bacterial sore throat. If you have severe symptoms or your symptoms aren’t improving after a few days, see your doctor.