Sore throat (pharyngitis) and bad breath (halitosis) are two symptoms that can co-occur in many health conditions.
Certain infections, such as tonsilitis, as well as sinusitis and acid reflux, can cause concurrent sore throat and bad breath.
Read on to learn more about the causes of sore throat and bad breath, including other symptoms of their associated medical conditions, treatment options, and when you should see a doctor for help.
When these symptoms occur separately, sore throat may be associated with short-term illnesses or irritants, while bad breath may be caused by dental diseases, a sinus infection, or certain foods you eat.
However, if you’re experiencing both a sore throat and bad breath, they may indicate a different underlying health condition.
Consider the following conditions that can cause a concurrent sore throat and bad breath, as well as other possible symptoms associated with each condition.
Tonsilitis is a common condition in which your tonsils become inflamed. It’s primarily related to Streptococcus bacterial infections but may also be caused by viral infections.
Aside from sore throat and bad breath, tonsilitis can cause a fever, difficulty swallowing, and swelling of the lymph nodes around your neck. Redness, swelling, and enlargement of your tonsils are all signs a doctor may see in this condition.
When you have a severe sore throat, one of the first conditions you might think about is strep throat. This is a bacterial infection also caused by group A Streptococcus. It is considered highly contagious.
A sore throat from strep throat tends to have a sudden onset and can make the inside of your throat red. A doctor may also notice red spots on the roof of your mouth and white patches on your tonsils.
In addition to pain in your throat, strep throat can cause bad breath, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. However, unlike other infections, strep throat does not cause cough, hoarseness, or runny nose.
Scarlet fever (scarlatina)
Scarlet fever is caused by the same group of bacteria as strep throat and tonsilitis. This infection causes a severe sore throat, along with a whitish coating on your tongue that can cause bad breath.
A high fever of 101°F (38°C) or more is common in scarlet fever. You may experience skin changes, such as a rash that may vary in tone based on your natural skin color. Scarlet fever can also cause bumps on your skin and tongue.
Also called a sinus infection, sinusitis is a bacterial infection that can be mistaken for a cold. It can cause a headache, facial pain, and runny nose. Sinusitis can also cause nasal congestion and postnasal drip, which can irritate your throat and change the way your breath smells.
Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi, your lung’s main airways. It can cause sore throat, coughing, and wheezing.
Excess mucus production is also common in bronchitis. This can cause your breath to smell bad. Runny nose, headache, and nasal congestion are also possible.
Like the common cold, bronchitis usually gets better on its own, without treatment. However, in 1 in 20 cases, it may progress to pneumonia.
Unlike bacterial infections, the common cold is a virus that tends to go away without treatment. It has some of the same symptoms as other conditions, including runny nose, sore throat, postnasal drip, cough, and bad breath.
The symptoms of a common cold can last
If you’re experiencing a sore throat and bad breath without any cold-like symptoms, you may have acid reflux. This condition is marked by a weakened lower esophageal sphincter, which causes stomach acid and some of your stomach’s contents to back up into your esophagus. It’s often worst in the morning and improves throughout the day.
The regurgitation of acid can leave a burning sensation in your throat, and you may taste bile. Other symptoms of acid reflux include coughing, chest pain, and nausea.
Treatment strategies for concurrent bad breath and sore throat will vary based on the underlying cause. Certain home remedies and medications may help.
To help ease a sore throat, you can try:
- drinking plenty of fluids, such as water and tea
- drinking warm tea with honey
- gargling 1/2 cup of warm water mixed with 1/4 teaspoon of salt several times throughout the day
- using a portable humidifier in your bedroom
The following strategies can help with bad breath:
- brushing or scraping your tongue
- brushing your teeth and flossing daily
- using mouthwashes
- using saline nasal sprays for sinusitis
- using saline rinses for sinusitis and colds
For sore throat and bad breath related to acid reflux, you can consider:
- limiting consumption of spicy and fatty foods, citrus, alcohol, and chocolate
- limiting or avoiding chewing gum
- eating smaller meals throughout the day
- avoiding large meals several hours before bedtime
- avoiding sitting in a reclined position or lying down right after eating
Depending on the underlying cause, a doctor may prescribe:
- antiacids for reflux
- antibiotics for bacterial infections
- prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to help manage allergies
- decongestants for sinusitis
- steroid treatments to reduce severe inflammation
Consider getting medical help if a sore throat and bad breath are accompanied by:
- a fever higher than 101°F (38°C)
- a fever that lasting longer than
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- swelling in your neck or face
- excess phlegm (mucus) production
- blood in your phlegm
- bleeding from your mouth or gums
- unexplained pain in your mouth
- ear pain
- joint pain
- unintentional weight loss
You should also contact a doctor if you’ve been experiencing a sore throat for longer than 5–10 days or hoarseness for more than 2 weeks. Additionally, consult a doctor or dentist if you have bad breath that doesn’t improve within a few weeks.
Sore throat and bad breath is a combination of symptoms that occurs in many health conditions, including acute infections, mild colds, and acid reflux.
In milder conditions, such as the common cold, sore throat and bad breath will go away as the underlying medical cause gets better. However, if your symptoms last several days and do not improve or if they get worse, consult a doctor for advice.