Is Your Sore Throat Caused by COVID, or Something Else?

David Cuthbertson, MD

sore throat covid

So you’ve woken up with a sore throat.

Even though COVID numbers are looking better lately, you’re still trying to be cautious and want to make sure you don’t spread COVID to those around you.

You know sore throats can have lots of different causes, and you wonder: is this sore throat COVID? Is it just a cold? How can you know what the cause is so you know what precautions to take?

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of COVID?

COVID generally affects the lungs more than any other organ. That’s why some of the major symptoms of COVID include a cough, shortness of breath and a fever.

But, confusingly, every case of COVID seems different. It can include many of the same symptoms as the flu, or just some of them. Many people experience some combination of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • headache
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • sore throat

Additionally, one of the most unique symptoms of COVID can be the loss of taste and smell. Sometimes COVID also comes with gastrointestinal symptoms, like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

While COVID can cause a sore throat, it’s rare for this to be the first sign. Any illness that causes congestion or a runny nose can also cause a sore throat.

sore throat covid

What Else Might Be Causing My Sore Throat?

While a sore throat isn’t the most common sign of COVID, sore throats are very common with many different conditions.

Any type of postnasal drainage can cause a sore throat. Your throat becomes irritated as the excess mucus drains. It doesn’t matter whether that drainage is from allergies, a cold, the flu or COVID.

Infected tonsils can also cause a sore throat. This is usually the result of strep throat, which your doctor can diagnose with a simple throat swab.

Acid reflux can cause a sore throat as well. We usually associate reflux with heartburn, but this isn’t always the case. Laryngopharyngeal reflux, or silent reflux, doesn’t have any symptoms in the chest; it only causes burning in the throat.

Finally, some simple, everyday things can cause irritation in the throat, but these will resolve on their own. The dry West Texas climate can irritate your throat. And in the winter, running the heater can dry out the air in your home or office even more.

You may want to play it safe and get tested for COVID. But if a sore throat is your only symptom, it’s unlikely that COVID is the cause.

How Can I Soothe My Sore Throat?

To find relief from your sore throat pain, try to figure out what’s causing it. When you know the cause, you can identify the best ways to reduce your pain and to prevent more sore throats in the future.

If acid reflux is the culprit, dietary changes can help eliminate your discomfort. Spicy, greasy and acidic foods are the most common culprits in causing reflux. Experiment to see what helps your specific case, especially in the evenings. Tomato products and caffeine are a good place to start, since these often make reflux worse.

If your throat is irritated from postnasal mucus drainage, you can gargle warm salt water or make yourself a cup of hot tea. (Honey lemon tea is a good choice!)

If you have seasonal allergies, addressing those with an ENT doctor can lessen the amount of drainage you experience. This could mean getting allergy shots, but it could also just mean using topical sprays and antihistamines.

If a dry environment is causing your sore throat, try running a humidifier, especially at night. Your throat can really dry out while you’re sleeping! Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day as well.

When Should I Call a Doctor?

If you have a sore throat that just won’t go away despite treating it at home, go ahead and give your doctor a call.

If your sore throat is so painful that you have trouble functioning, you may want to call your healthcare provider sooner.

And if your throat pain is accompanied by changes to your voice, difficulty swallowing, or coughing up blood, make an appointment with an ENT doctor right away.

A sore throat accompanied by unintentional weight loss also warrants a call to your doctor. You should check in with your doctor if you have a sore throat and a history of smoking or heavy alcohol use as well.

No matter what’s causing your sore throat, ENT Associates of Lubbock can help you get to the bottom of it. Contact us to set up a consultation if you’ve had any of these concerning symptoms, or if you just want to see what’s going on with your sore throat!

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