What is a sore throat?

Sore throat (pharyngitis) is an inflammation of the pharynx or throat – the area between the tonsils and the larynx (voice box). A sore throat is characterised by redness, swelling and pain in this area, which can make swallowing or speech difficult.

The pharynx is connected to the mouth, nose, oesophagus, larynx and ears. It is also close to the tonsils (at the back of the pharynx) and the adenoids (higher up in the nasal portion of the pharynx). Frequently, pharyngitis also involves these other structures.

A sore throat is usually the first symptom of a mild illness such as a cold or the flu. However, it can also be an indication of a more serious condition, such as strep throat or scarlet fever.


A sore throat is an extremely common complaint. It is particularly prevalent during the colder months of the year, when respiratory diseases are most widespread.


Typically, a sore throat should disappear within a week. A sore throat that lasts longer than two weeks can sometimes be a sign of a serious illness, such as throat cancer or Aids.

Risk factors

People who suffer from allergies, persistent coughs or chronic sinusitis are particularly prone to sore throats.


Inflammation of the pharynx causes it to redden and swell. The condition is characterised by a raw, scratchy or burning sensation in the back of the throat, and pain, especially when swallowing.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Tenderness or swollen glands at the front of the neck
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Runny nose
  • Mild fever
  • General fatigue
  • Painful breathing and speaking
  • Pus in the throat
  • Earache

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