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A sore throat is one of the many potential symptoms of COVID-19, which is the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

However, a sore throat is only one of the symptoms that may develop due to COVID-19. Some other symptoms are much more common.

In this article we’ll explore a sore throat as a symptom of COVID-19, other symptoms to watch out for, and when to seek medical care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms that develop with COVID-19 can vary from one person to another.

A sore throat can be one symptom of COVID-19.

A survey study published in February 2021 notes that, compared with other symptoms, a sore throat had an earlier onset.

This makes sense because in other respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, a sore throat is often an early symptom.

Respiratory viruses are inhaled, meaning they enter your nose and throat first. They may replicate there early on, leading to throat soreness and irritation.

Reports on how common a sore throat is with COVID-19 varies based on the group that’s being studied. For example, a study of 120 people with COVID-19 found that a sore throat was reported by 30 percent of study participants. Another study of 99 people found that it was only reported in 5 percent of cases.

A study in China, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published early in the pandemic, found that out of more than 55,000 confirmed cases, only 13.9 percent of people reported a sore throat.

This aligns with the findings of a systematic review and meta-analysis that was published in November 2020. Researchers analyzed 148 studies that looked at the symptoms in 24,410 adults with confirmed COVID-19. It found that the prevalence of a sore throat was 12 percent.

The ZOE Study, an initiative started by the ZOE Company and King’s College London, tracks self-reported COVID-19 symptoms through the COVID-19 Symptom Study app (iOS, Android).

So far, a sore throat is a commonly reported symptom, with almost half of users reporting it. This symptom is also more often reported in people between the ages of 18 and 65, and appears to be slightly less common in vaccinated people.

Age may also be a factor in the type of COVID-19 symptoms you have.

An observational study published in January 2021 involved 373 healthcare workers. Of those who got COVID-19, typical cold symptoms like sore throat and runny or stuffy nose were more commonly reported in participants under the age of 30.

Summary

A sore throat can be an early symptom of COVID-19, but how common it is can vary.

Some research indicates that a sore throat seems to occur in about 12 to 14 percent of people with COVID-19. However, almost half the users of a symptom-tracking app have reported a sore throat as a symptom of COVID-19.

Additionally, a sore throat seems to be more common in people under age 30.

There’s not really any information on whether a COVID-19 sore throat feels different from a sore throat due to other causes.

Generally speaking, developing a sore throat is a common symptom of several other illnesses, including the common cold and strep throat.

If you have a sore throat due to COVID-19, you may notice general sore throat symptoms like:

  • pain or a feeling of thickness in your throat, especially when you swallow or talk
  • a dry or scratchy feeling in your throat
  • redness or inflammation in the back of your throat

At the end of the day, the only way to know for sure whether your sore throat is caused by COVID-19 is to get tested. A healthcare professional or your state or local health department can provide you with information on where to get a COVID-19 test.

Other symptoms may be more common signs of COVID-19.

Several systematic reviews have evaluated common COVID-19 symptoms. Generally speaking, the authors of these reviews have found that the three most commonly documented COVID-19 symptoms are:

Along with a sore throat, other less common COVID-19 symptoms include:

If you develop a sore throat with other symptoms, how do you know whether it’s from COVID-19, a cold, or something else?

The simple answer: The only sure way to rule out COVID-19 is to get tested for it.

Other factors can also help you distinguish between COVID-19 and other conditions:

  • COVID-19. The most commonly reported symptoms are fever, cough, and fatigue. Other symptoms can occur with less frequency. One symptom that’s unique to COVID-19 is loss of smell or taste.
  • Common cold. Symptoms can also appear gradually. But the most common early symptoms are sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. Fevers can occur but are typically rare.
  • Flu. Symptoms come on suddenly. The flu shares many symptoms with COVID-19. But common flu symptoms — like chills, headache, and aches and pains — are less common with COVID-19.
  • Strep throat. A sore throat often comes on quickly with strep throat. COVID-19 symptoms like cough and runny nose typically aren’t symptoms of strep throat.
  • Allergies. Allergies can cause a sore throat due to postnasal drip. Other common symptoms are sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes. COVID-19 symptoms like fever, fatigue, and aches and pains don’t happen with allergies.
  • Mononucleosis (mono). Mono is more common in teenagers and young adults. The symptoms of mono also come on slowly. Common symptoms include sore throat, extreme fatigue, and fever. A rash may also develop. Cough doesn’t occur in mono.
  • Croup. Croup is most common in children. It has a very characteristic “barking” cough that’s often worse at night. Before developing a cough, a child may have typical cold symptoms like sore throat, fever, and runny nose.

If you develop a sore throat or other symptoms and think you may have COVID-19, take the following steps:

  • Stay home. Plan to go out only to seek medical care. If you live with other people, make sure you distance yourself from them as much as possible. Wear a mask, preferably an N95 or KN95 mask, if you’re around other people in your home, or if you have to get medical care.
  • Call your doctor. Let them know about your symptoms. They’ll give you information on how to care for yourself while you’re ill, and may also arrange for you to be tested for COVID-19.
  • Keep track of your symptoms. Most people with COVID-19 can recover at home, but about 1 in 5 people develop a more serious illness. If your symptoms begin to worsen, get prompt medical attention.

If you have mild COVID-19 symptoms with a sore throat, you can take some steps to help ease your symptoms at home. For instance, you can:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated while you recover. Warm liquids like broths or tea with honey may help to soothe throat irritation and soreness.
  • Try gargling with a saltwater solution to help lessen sore throat pain.
  • Suck on throat lozenges or hard candies, which can help keep your throat moist by stimulating saliva production.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Taking a steamy shower may also help ease throat irritation.
  • Rest to help your body’s immune system fight off the infection.
  • Consider using over-the-counter medications to ease pain. Examples include acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil), and aspirin.

In some people, COVID-19 may progress to include more serious symptoms. This typically happens 5 to 8 days after you become ill.

Seek immediate medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:

A sore throat is a potential symptom of COVID-19. According to some studies, it seems to be less common than other COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, and fatigue.

If you have a sore throat or other symptoms and think you may have COVID-19, stay home and call a doctor to discuss your symptoms. They can let you know how to care for yourself and may suggest that you get tested for COVID-19.

Although most cases of COVID-19 are mild, some may progress to a serious illness. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical care if you experience symptoms like trouble breathing or chest pain.