Different Types of Sore Throats

We’ve all had a sore throat at some point in our lives – in fact, you’d be extremely lucky if you’d only suffered from one once! But did you know sore throats can be split into three different types? These are pharyngitis, tonsilitis and laryngitis. The difference comes down to the part of the throat that is affected.

The three types of sore throats

Pharyngitis is swelling and soreness of the throat itself.

Laryngitis is swelling and inflammation of the larynx, also known as the voice box.

Tonsilitis is swelling, inflammation and, often, soreness of the tonsils. Tonsils are oval-shaped nodes at the back of your mouth – one on each side – that help fight infection.

Causes of a sore throat

Many different things can cause your throat to be irritated or painful. Knowing what is causing a sore throat is just as important as what type it is, as you’ll often need to choose treatment based on the issue that’s behind your symptoms.

Viral infection

Most sore throats are caused by viruses such as colds, flu, mono and Covid-19. Chicken pox, measles and mumps can also sometimes cause throat pain.

Bacterial infection – strep throat

Sore throats can also be caused by bacterial infections. The most common is strep throat – the result of the throat and tonsils becoming infected by A Streptococcus bacteria.

While strep throat is less common than viral infections, it causes around 20-30% of children’s sore throats.

Smoke and other irritants

A wide variety of chemicals and substances can irritate your throat when they are present in the air. For example:

  • Smoke
  • Pollution
  • Chemicals such as from air fresheners or harsh cleaning products


Allergens such as to pollen, pet dander, or grass can cause throat irritation, along with more common symptoms such as sneezing and itchy eyes. You can also get a sore throat when allergies cause excess mucus which then drips down the back of your throat.

Dry air

Yes, even just the air can sometimes cause a sore throat! When the environment you’re in is particularly dry, the air can pull moisture from your throat and mouth, sometimes leaving your throat feeling scratchy or sore. This is most common in cold months when you have heating running for long periods.

Injury or illness

Sore throats can also be an occupational hazard or a symptom of something more serious. For instance, throat pain can be caused by injury to the throat – from choking on something to using your voice for protracted periods of time. Sports coaches and fitness instructors often have throat issues due to the need to yell frequently in their work.

More serious issues include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), which cause stomach acid to flow up into the throat, and tumors of the throat, tongue or larynx. If you have a sore throat that is unusually intense or does not go away after a few days, it’s vital you discuss it with your doctor. A sore throat can be a symptom of a more serious health issue, and even one that just begins as soreness and inflammation could turn into something more serious.  

What helps a sore throat?

Knowing the cause of a sore throat can help you make sure you choose the best treatment for it. However, there are certain additional things you can do that will help, no matter the cause – such as getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and gargling with salt water (though be aware this is not suitable for children under age 8).

You can also use specifically designed sore throat treatments that work to relieve irritation and soothe pain. They won’t cure illnesses, but they often help with symptoms.

How to relieve throat pain

If you have a viral infection, you may be using cold or flu treatments which include a pain reliever – often acetaminophen – which can help dull the pain of a sore throat. Still, you may find that this only lessens the discomfort rather than eliminating it.

There are products specifically designed to soothe throat pain, that can offer relief no matter the cause or type of soreness.

Cough drops or sore throat lozenges are one great option, providing fast and effective relief for mouth pain and sore throats. There’s a huge variety available, for instance you can get throat lozenges that also suppress coughs and lozenges with soothing liquid centers. To be sure you’re not just purchasing expensive candy, look for doctor-recommended brands.

To immediately numb an irritated throat, it’s hard to beat a sore throat spray. Just one quick spray to the affected area can offer immediate and long-lasting pain relief. Like lozenges, these come in a wide range of flavors, and, when used as directed and given with supervision, some brands are suitable for some children. Taking it with you on family trips can be a vacation saver!


Whatever kind of sore throat you have, make sure to take care of yourself, get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. If you are suffering with other symptoms beyond a sore throat such as fever, nausea or a headache, or the pain is severe, be sure to speak to your doctor as soon as possible.