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COVID-19 Symptom: Sore Throat

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

Overview

  • A sore throat is a common symptom of COVID-19 and it can be even more prevalent in COVID-19 variants such as Omicron
  • A sore throat can persist for a few days to a few weeks
  • Treatment for a COVID-19 sore throat primarily focuses on relieving symptoms and managing the underlying infection
  • Some people may be at a higher risk of developing a severe sore throat and other complications from COVID-19

A sore throat is one of the most common signs of a COVID-19 infection. Recent studies suggest that a sore throat can be even more frequent - and severe - with some COVID variants like Omicron 1. COVID sore throat often appears with other symptoms, but it can occur independently. 

Identifying the source of your pain is important because several conditions can cause a sore throat. A COVID-19 test can give you more certainty on whether or not your symptoms are due to the coronavirus. The cause of your pain also dictates the treatment strategy.

What does a COVID-19 sore throat feel like?

A sore throat is a COVID symptom that occurs quite frequently. A sore throat can cause pain when swallowing. It can also make your throat feel dry and scratchy. In most cases, a sore throat appears together with other symptoms of a COVID infection, such as a cough, a fever, headache, or any other COVID symptoms. In some cases, you can have COVID and only experience a sore throat. 

Studies suggest that a sore throat is usually one of the early symptoms of the coronavirus infection and can worsen over the first few days. The Omicron variant can also affect the upper airway tract more than the other variants, leading to a higher possibility of a sore throat. 2 3 4 5 6 7

Typically, a sore throat can cause

  • Mild to moderate pain, especially when swallowing or talking
  • A red appearance of the throat 
  • A sore neck or swollen lymph nodes 

As the Eustachian tube closely connects the ear and the throat, COVID-19 sore throat may go together with ear pain on one or both sides.

Find here more info about Covid and laryngitis

How long does a sore throat caused by COVID last?

A sore throat from COVID usually only lasts until the infection has been cleared. It may be that the pain increases over the first days, but after that it should decrease. In some cases, you can still have a sore throat after your COVID infection.

If the pain persists for weeks after the initial infection, it’s crucial you contact your doctor for monitoring and treatment. This could be a sign that you may have long-COVID. 4

You should contact your doctor immediately if you have a severe sore throat due to COVID and your symptoms are getting worse quickly, or if your sore throat goes together with: 8

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain that doesn’t go away
  • Confusion
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Pale, gray or blue-colored skin

What can be the cause of a sore throat?

A sore throat caused by COVID-19 is thought to be caused by an infection of the upper respiratory tract. The virus enters the body through the nose and mouth and can infect the throat, larynx, and lungs. The infection causes inflammation and irritation of the tissues in the throat, leading to a sore throat. 

However, there are other reasons a sore throat may develop. Some common causes of a sore throat include:  4

As the causes for a sore throat may vary, it’s important to get tested for COVID, especially if you have other symptoms that may indicate a COVID infection. If your test is positive, then you should isolate and follow local government guidelines. If your test is negative, you may try home remedies for a mild to moderate sore throat. Call your doctor for advice and medication if you're experiencing a severe sore throat or if your throat pain doesn't improve after a week.

How can a sore throat due to COVID be treated?

The treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. If your sore throat is caused by the coronavirus, then it should go away on its own without any particular treatment. You can use home remedies or painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to minimize the pain you might be experiencing. 

You can soothe your sore throat by: 4

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Eating cool or soft foods
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Getting enough rest
  • Gargling with warm, salty water.

It's worth noting that some people may be at a higher risk of developing a severe sore throat and other complications from COVID-19. These individuals include older adults, people with underlying health conditions and weakened immune systems. If you have a sore throat and are experiencing any other symptoms of COVID-19, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

COVID Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

The main difference between the two is that a COVID-19 sore throat is caused by a virus, while strep throat is caused by bacteria. A doctor cannot tell whether a sore throat is caused by COVID or strep just by looking into your mouth. If your COVID-19 test is negative, your doctor can swab your throat to test for strep.

If the test confirms a strep diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent serious complications, such as rheumatic fever. When the COVID virus causes a sore throat, antibiotics will not help. Most sore throats resulting from COVID will get better on their own within 1 week.

Wrapping up

A sore throat can have many causes. If an infection with the coronavirus is the cause, then you may experience other symptoms related to it as well. Usually, your sore throat will go away on its own once the infection has cleared. There are however a few home remedies such as resting, keeping yourself hydrated, and gargling with warm, salty water that can be helpful to relieve your pain and help shorten the duration of your sore throat.

FAQs

Q: Is sore throat a sign of COVID?
A: A sore throat is one of the most frequent signs of a COVID infection. It often goes together with other symptoms of a COVID infection, but it may appear on its own as well.

Q: Can a sore throat follow a COVID vaccine?
A: A sore throat is not a known side-effect of vaccination. This means that if you have a sore throat after your COVID vaccine, it may be that you are infected with the coronavirus or with another virus that is causing the pain in your throat.

Q: Why do I have a sore throat but no fever?
A: COVID symptoms can vary greatly from one person to the next. If you test positive for COVID, you may only experience a sore throat, with no fever or other symptoms of the virus.

Q: How do I know if my sore throat is viral or bacterial?
A: You need to get tested to find out if your sore throat is viral or bacterial. An at-home COVID test kit can determine if you have a viral infection. A healthcare provider will need to swab the back of your throat to confirm a bacterial infection.

Q: Why does sore throat get worse at night?
A: If you have other symptoms, such as a cough or stuffy nose, lying down can cause post-nasal drip. The excess mucus can collect at the back of your throat and irritate it further. Sleeping with your mouth open can also irritate your throat more.