1. Common Health Problems

Sore Throats

"Cheering at the game was great, but my voice was hoarse and my throat was sore the next couple of days."

– Chris B., Duke University

Sore throats are common complaints of college students. The soreness can range from a mere scratch to severe pain.

Signs & Symptoms

  1. Dry, irritated throat.

  2. Soreness or pain in the throat, especially when you talk or swallow.

  3. Swollen neck glands.

  4. The back of the throat and/or the tonsils look bright red or have pus deposits or white spots.

  5. Enlarged tonsils that feel tender (tonsillitis).

You may have other symptoms with the sore throat, too. These include fatigue, fever, postnasal drip, bad breath, headache, and/or earache.


  1. Viruses, such as with a cold or the flu or mononucleosis.

  2. A bacterial infection, such as strep throat.

  3. Shouting for long periods of time, such as from cheering at a sporting event.

  4. Tobacco or marijuana smoke.

  5. Dry air. Allergies. Cough. Postnasal drip.

  6. Self-induced vomiting.

  7. An infection from oral sex with an infected partner.


To Prevent Getting a Sore Throat

  1. Do not get in close contact with anyone you know who has a sore throat.

  2. Wash your hands often to minimize picking up germs from others. Also, don't share drinking glasses and silverware.

To Treat a Sore Throat

  1. Gargle every 2 to 3 hours with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of salt mixed in 1 cup of warm water.

  2. Drink plenty of warm beverages, such as tea with lemon (with or without honey) and soup.

  3. For strep throat, have cold foods and liquids.

  4. Use a cool-mist vaporizer in your room. If you get a sore throat often, consider putting a portable air purifier in your room.

  5. Don't smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollution.

  6. Avoid eating spicy foods.

  7. Suck on a piece of hard candy, cough drop, or medicated lozenge every 2 to 4 hours.

  8. Take an over-the-counter medicine for the pain and/or fever. (See "Pain Relievers" in "Over-the-Counter Medication Safety.")

  9. If prescribed an antibiotic, take all of it.

With a sore throat, do you have severe shortness of breath or are you unable to swallow your own saliva?

With a sore throat, do you have any of these problems?

  1. Fever, chills, nausea, headache, and swollen, enlarged neck glands.

  2. Ear pain that persists.

  3. A bad smell from the throat, nose, or ears.

  4. Skin rash.

  5. Dark urine.

Do your tonsils or does the back of your throat look bright red or have pus deposits?

Questions to Ask

Does your roommate or others you live with have strep throat or do you get strep throat or tonsillitis often?

Has even a mild sore throat lasted more than 3 weeks?


Self-care treats most sore throats. Your health care provider may take a throat culture to see if strep or another type of bacteria is the cause. If so, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic. Take all of the antibiotic to help prevent other conditions, such as rheumatic fever. Sore throats caused by viruses do not need an antibiotic.