White spots on the throat can result from a viral, fungal, or bacterial infection. You may experience other symptoms including throat pain.

White spots on the inside of your throat are usually caused by an infection. A mild, short-term irritation could be a symptom of an infection or another condition. These often occur along with a sore throat.

Other symptoms that may occur with a sore throat can include:

  • nasal congestion
  • fever
  • difficulty swallowing
  • white spots on your tonsils, which are inside your throat
  • throat pain

A doctor can diagnose the exact cause of these white spots. Keep reading to learn the different causes of white spots on the throat.

Several types of infections may cause white spots on your throat. These include infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Specific causes can include:

Strep throat

A sore throat could be a sign of a strep throat infection. Some people with this contagious bacterial infection will also have white spots on their tonsils or in their throat.

Infectious mononucleosis

This highly contagious viral infection, also called mono, can cause white spots on your tonsils and in your throat. It can be spread through body fluids, commonly saliva.

Oropharyngeal candidiasis

Oropharyngeal candidiasis, or oral thrush, is a fungal or yeast infection of the mouth and throat. It can cause white spots in these locations. Thrush is more common in babies, as well as people who may be immunocompromised.

Oral and genital herpes

Oral herpes (HSV-1) is a common viral infection. It can spread through kissing, oral sex, or sharing utensils or cups with someone who has an active infection. Genital herpes (HSV-2) is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s spread through skin-to-skin contact. Sex without a condom or other barrier method may increase the risk of STIs, such as HSV-2.

In addition to having white spots on the throat, you may experience other symptoms. Along with testing, these symptoms may help determine your diagnosis. Common symptoms that may occur with white spots on the throat can include:

  • sore throat
  • pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • white spots on your tonsils
  • nasal congestion
  • fever

Each condition can also have specific symptoms as well.

Strep throat symptoms

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • pain when swallowing
  • redness and swelling of your throat or tonsils
  • swollen neck glands
  • headache
  • rash
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain

Symptoms of mono

Mono can cause a number of symptoms other than white spots in your throat. Additional symptoms can include:

Oral thrush symptoms

Along with white spots in the throat, oral thrush can other symptoms.

These symptoms can include:

  • redness
  • sore throat
  • pain when swallowing

Symptoms of oral and genital herpes

The most common symptom of oral herpes (HSV-1) is a cold sore on your lip. The most common symptom of genital herpes (HSV-2) is a sore in your genital area. Both infections may occur without symptoms.

Both types of herpes can also cause white spots or sores to appear on your throat and tonsils.

Some additional symptoms may be more common with the first episode of infection. These symptoms may include:

  • tingling or itching in the area of your sores
  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms
  • sore throat
  • urinary symptoms (HSV-2)

If you notice your spots aren’t disappearing on their own, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor, even if the spots aren’t causing discomfort. If you don’t already have a primary care doctor, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.

Diagnosis may involve a doctor looking at your throat and doing a brief physical examination. This may include asking questions about personal health and any symptoms you’ve been experiencing.

A doctor may also order lab tests including blood tests and cultures. Figuring out what’s responsible for the white spots in your throat will help a doctor prescribe the right treatment.

Depending on the cause of your white spots, you may not need treatment. For example, if a virus is responsible, the spots should clear up on their own. If the spots are caused by a yeast infection or bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe antifungal medications or antibiotics.

Treating strep throat

Strep throat can only be diagnosed with a throat culture. If you have strep throat, a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic medication. In addition, a doctor may suggest you take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), to help reduce pain, swelling, and fever.

Untreated strep can potentially lead to serious complications like acute rheumatic fever or peritonsillar abscess.

Treating mono

Treatment of mono focuses on reducing and alleviating symptoms. Secondary infections may require antibiotics.

If you have mono, a doctor may recommend plenty of rest and use an over-the-counter pain reliever to relieve headache, fever, or sore throat. A doctor may prescribe oral steroid medication if your symptoms are severe.

Treating oral thrush

To treat mild oral thrush, a doctor will likely prescribe an antifungal that you’ll need to swish around your mouth and then swallow. These medications can include clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and nystatin (Nystop, Nyamyc, Nyata).

A doctor may prescribe an oral medication such as fluconazole (Diflucan) or itraconazole (Sporanox) to treat moderate to severe infections.

Babies with oral thrush can be treated using liquid antifungal medication. Doctors may also recommend nursing mothers apply antifungal creams to their nipples and areolae before feeding such babies.

Treating oral and genital herpes

Herpes has no cure. Antiviral medications, like acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir, (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir) may be prescribed. Topical anesthetics, such as lidocaine (LMX 4, LMX 5, AneCream, RectiCare, RectaSmoothe), may help lessen throat pain.

You might be able to stop white spots before they form. There are actions you can take to limit your chances of contracting certain conditions which cause white spots. For example, basic ways to eliminate harmful germs, such as washing your hands often, should lower your risk for most viral infections. Each condition also has specific prevention steps as well.

Preventing strep throat

Prevention for strep throat is similar to prevention for other viral infections:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Touch your face as little as possible.

Since strep throat is spread through respiratory droplets. You can decrease your chances by not sharing drinks or utensils with others.

Preventing mono

Since mono is spread through saliva, it’s important to limit sharing utensils, drinks, and bottles with others. For example, instead of sharing a water bottle with a friend on a hike, you could lower your risk of mono by bringing one water bottle for each of you.

Preventing oral thrush

Oral thrush is prevented by following good dental health practices:

Since thrush often affects infants, it’s important to clean pacifiers between each use. If a child is formula fed, it’s also important to wash the nipple between uses.

Preventing oral and genital herpes

Using a condom or other barrier method during sex may help prevent herpes and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you or a partner has HSV-2 and experiences recurrent outbreaks, taking daily suppressive medication can lower the chances of passing the infection to a partner.

Many of the conditions that can cause white spots on your throat are treatable with medication. The sooner you make an appointment to see a doctor, the sooner they can diagnose the cause of your white spots and start treatment.

White spots on your throat can mean that you have a virus. It can often take 1 to 2 weeks to resolve.

If you have persistent, severe, or worsening symptoms, consider making an appointment with a healthcare professional.

For severe symptoms like a high fever or severe pain, you may need immediate medical attention.