Sometimes you may experience a sore throat that also occurs with a headache. A variety of conditions may cause these symptoms to occur together, including bacterial and viral infections.
Continue reading to learn about what can cause a sore throat and a headache simultaneously, possible treatments, and ways to keep yourself healthy.
Several different conditions can cause a sore throat and a headache to occur together. We’ll explore some of them in more detail below.
Many common viral infections can cause a sore throat to occur with a headache. Some examples include the flu, the common cold, and mononucleosis (mono).
A less common viral cause of sore throat and headache is HIV. Sore throat, headache, and other flu-like symptoms can be a sign of early HIV infection.
A bacterial infection can also cause a sore throat and headache. The most likely type of bacteria to cause these symptoms are streptococcal (strep) bacteria.
A sore throat caused by strep bacteria is called strep throat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about
The secondary stage of syphilis, a sexually transmitted bacterial infection, can also cause sore throat and headache to occur. Other symptoms of syphilis are rash, fever, and pain in the muscles and joints.
Allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to a harmless substance such as pollen or pet dander. People with allergies may experience a sore throat and in some cases a headache.
Unsure if you have a viral infection or allergies? Other symptoms that may indicate allergies include sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.
Your tonsils are located at the back of your throat. When they become inflamed, it’s called tonsillitis.
The condition is most often caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Sore throat and headache are two common symptoms of tonsillitis.
An abscess is a pocket of pus that develops on or in your body. Peritonsillar abscesses can occur in the space behind the tonsils as a complication of tonsillitis. You may also see this condition referred to as quinsy.
People with a peritonsillar abscess have a throat that’s very sore as well as other symptoms like headache, difficulty swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes.
Lemierre syndrome is very rare but can be life-threatening. It’s a complication of a bacterial throat infection.
In the case of Lemierre syndrome, the infection spreads to the deeper tissues of the throat, forming an infected blood clot in the jugular vein. If the infected clot circulates in the bloodstream, septicemia can occur.
In addition to sore throat, other symptoms can include headache, chills, and fever.
Head and neck cancer
Cancer can affect various areas of your head and neck, including your throat. Tobacco and alcohol use are risk factors for these types of cancers. Infection with some types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor as well.
Cancer in your throat may cause throat pain that doesn’t go away as well as headaches and difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Is my sore throat bacterial or viral?
Viral and bacterial infections commonly cause a sore throat. They also share similar symptoms. So, how can you tell the difference between the two?
Generally speaking, the following symptoms suggest your sore throat may be due to a viral infection instead of a bacterial infection:
- a runny nose
- hoarse voice
If your doctor suspects a bacterial infection such as strep throat, they may take a swab sample from the back of your throat. This sample can then be tested in a lab for the presence of bacteria.
In some cases, you may have a fever in addition to a sore throat and a headache. A fever is often a response to an infection. Some common causes of fever with a sore throat and headache include the flu, mono, and strep throat.
One thing to look out for is if flu-like symptoms develop into a sudden high fever with a severe headache. This could be a sign of meningitis, which can be life threatening. Other symptoms to look out for include:
- stiff neck
- nausea and vomiting
- sensitivity to light
- feeling very tired or sleepy
See a doctor if you suspect meningitis
You should always seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that you or your child has meningitis.
Here are some treatments for both sore throat and headache.
Sore throat remedies
Here are several things that you can do at home to help ease your sore throat:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
- Gargle with warm salt water.
- Suck on throat lozenges or ice cubes.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil).
- Use a humidifier or take a steamy shower.
- Drink warm liquids such as soups, broths, or tea with honey.
- Avoid environments where smoke or other pollution could irritate your throat.
While a sore throat that’s caused by a virus will have to go away on its own, antibiotics are given to treat sore throats caused by bacteria. You should always take your entire course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better.
You can do the following things at home to help relieve a headache:
- Take OTC pain relief medications such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Apply a cold compress to your head.
- Consider taking supplements, such as magnesium, vitamin B12, and coenzyme Q10.
- Rest up and get plenty of sleep.
- Practice mind-body techniques such as yoga or meditation.
- Try mild to moderate exercise.
What about young children?
It’s important to remember to never give aspirin to young children or teenagers. This is because it’s been linked to a potentially life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome.
Look for OTC medications that are specifically designed for infants or children. Some examples include Children’s Tylenol and Children’s Motrin. If you ever have any questions about which medications are appropriate for your child, be sure to ask your pediatrician.
Additionally, you should avoid giving throat lozenges to children under age 4, as they may be a choking hazard. Due to concerns about infant botulism, honey should never be given to children under 1 year old.
How can you tell if you’re coming down with a sore throat or a headache? Here are symptoms to look out for:
Sore throat symptoms
The symptoms of a sore throat depend on what’s causing it, but can include:
- pain or a scratchy feeling in the throat
- pain that occurs when you swallow or speak
- a hoarse or scratchy voice
- tonsils that are red, swollen, or have white patches on them
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Although there are actually many different types of headache, some general headache symptoms include pain that:
- often develops slowly
- feels dull and aching
- typically occurs on both sides of the head
- is mild or moderate in intensity
There are several ways that you can prevent yourself or your child from developing a sore throat and headache. These include:
- Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, as well as after using the toilet, before eating, and before touching your face, nose, or mouth.
- Don’t share food, drinking glasses, or eating utensils with others.
- Cover your mouth if you need to cough or sneeze, and dispose of any used tissues appropriately. If you don’t have a tissue available, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow instead of into your hand.
- Avoid contact with people who are ill. If you’re sick, stay home. Ask your doctor when you can return to work or school.
- If you have allergies, try to avoid your allergy triggers.
- Practice safe sex to prevent getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Use condoms, limit your number of sexual partners, and get tested and treated if you suspect you have an STI.
- Avoid using tobacco products and limit the use of alcohol to reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancers.
If your sore throat lasts longer than a week or you have a sore throat that’s persistent or recurs, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Additionally, you should always see your doctor if you or your child experiences any of the following along with a headache and sore throat:
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- trouble swallowing
- unusual drooling (in children)
- high fever
- nausea or vomiting
- stiff neck
- confusion or changes in mental state
- swelling in the neck or face
- a lump or mass in the neck
Sore throat and headache can sometimes occur together. The cause of these symptoms is often a viral or bacterial infection, although other conditions can cause them as well.
When caused by an infection, sore throat and headache may also occur with fever. However, you should always look out for symptoms like a sudden high fever, severe headache, and stiff neck, which can be signs of meningitis.
There are many things you can do at home to help relieve both sore throats and headaches. You should always be sure to see your doctor if your symptoms don’t get better or worsen after at-home care. You may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics to treat your condition.