How Is a Sore Throat Diagnosed?


A sore throat is a symptom of another condition. A primary care doctor will make a pharyngitis diagnosis and investigate the cause of the sore throat based on:

  • Other symptoms - Symptoms that accompany a sore throat give clues to the cause. Coughing and congestion often accompany a viral infection. Bacterial infections, like strep throat, may cause a high fever and pain when swallowing.
  • Physical exam - Your primary care doctor will shine a light on your throat to look for redness and inflammation in your throat, as well as swelling and white patches on your tonsils (a sign of bacterial infection). Your ears and nose also will be examined, and your doctor will check for swollen lymph nodes (glands) in your neck.
  • Throat culture - The doctor will swab the back of your throat to test for bacteria. A quick test, with results in a few minutes, can diagnose strep throat. The sample may also be sent to a laboratory to confirm strep throat or identify other types of bacteria.
  • Blood tests - If your doctor suspects you have mononucleosis, blood may be drawn from your arm and sent to a lab for testing

How can a primary care doctor help?

A primary care doctor can help you address the symptoms of pharyngitis, determine the cause, prescribe medicine, and recommend remedies for sore throat if needed. Treatment will be different depending on whether your pharyngitis is a symptom of a viral infection, bacterial infection, or a long-term irritant such as allergies or acid reflux. The doctor can refer you to a specialist if you require further care.

How Is a Sore Throat Treated?


A sore throat is treated by addressing the underlying cause. Whether you need medicine for a sore throat depends on the cause. If you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections. Your doctor may recommend some of these sore throat remedies and treatment options:

  • Common cold (viral infection)- Rest and drink lots of fluids. Take over-the-counter pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) -Try lozenges to keep the throat moist and relieve sore throat pain.
  • Influenza (viral infection) - Rest and drink lots of fluids. Over-the-counter pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) can help a sore throat and reduce fever. Try lozenges to keep the throat moist.
  • Mononucleosis (viral infection) - Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers are recommended. With mononucleosis, you may be more likely to also get a bacterial infection, so call your doctor if symptoms worsen.
  • Strep throat (bacterial infection) - Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if you have a positive throat-swab test for strep throat. Be sure to take all the medicine, as directed, even if you feel better before it is finished.
  • Tonsillitis (viral or bacterial) - With a throat-swab test, your doctor can determine whether tonsils are inflamed from a viral or bacterial infection. If it’s bacterial, antibiotics will be prescribed.
  • Allergies - Postnasal drip is a common cause of sore throat from allergies. Over-the-counter antihistamines can provide relief.
  • Acid reflux - Try over-the-counter antacids, and avoid eating just before bedtime. If heartburn and sore throat persist, ask your doctor for advice.
  • Vocal strain - Rest your voice by avoiding talking much or singing, for a couple of days. Drink tea, broth, or other warm liquids to soothe the irritation in the throat and help it heal.

Home remedies for a sore throat

Anyone experiencing a sore throat should rest and drink plenty of fluids. In addition, no matter what is causing pharyngitis, these sore throat remedies can ease throat pain:

  • Gargle with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup warm water) several times a day
  • Drink hot fluids like tea and broth to soothe throat irritation
  • If you have a stuffy nose (congestion), try a decongestant or a steroid nasal spray
  • Suck on nonprescription throat lozenges, ice chips, or hard candies to moisten the throat. Some lozenges have numbing medicine to soothe pain. Do not give these items to children under age 2.
  • Don’t smoke
  • Dry air contributes do sore throat, so add moisture with a humidifier or vaporizer



Liquids are key to soothing a sore throat. Drink plenty of water to thin mucous. Tea, broth or other warm drinks relieve irritation. Sucking on lozenges or ice chips can help. Gargle often with warm salt water. Try a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the air in your house.

Most sore throats get better within a few days without treatment.

Allergies can cause a sore throat. Congestion and postnasal drip from allergies can irritate the throat and make it sore.

Pharyngitis itself is not contagious. But if a viral or bacterial infection is the cause of the sore throat, the sick person can spread these germs to others.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Sore Throat Treatment

When you have sore throat, it’s important to know your treatment options to help relieve sore throat symptoms . Primary care physicians at NewYork-Presbyterian provide compassionate and state-of-the-art care for all causes of pharyngitis. Make an appointment at one of our convenient locations, or schedule a virtual urgent care visit. We also offer referrals to NewYork-Presbyterian specialists