Having a sore throat is one of the hurdles you must face with COVID-19. It can be more painful when you find it hard to swallow and you can’t even enjoy your food.
For many people, a sore throat is one of the early symptoms of COVID-19. It typically lasts for two to three days, but COVID itself can take one to two weeks to fully recover from.
In this short guide, we cover the basics of sore throat caused by COVID-19, including what it feels like and how to treat it.
What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is a well-known symptom of COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sore throat is characterized by:
- Pain when swallowing or talking
- A dry, scratchy throat
- Inflammation and white spots in the tonsils
- Red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Swollen or sore lymph nodes in the neck or jaw
- A hoarse voice
What does COVID sore throat feel like?
What Ddoes COVID Ssore Tthroat Ffeel Llike?
COVID sore throat feels more or less similar to a sore throat caused by other respiratory illnesses such as the flu or the common cold. Sore throat affects about half of all people who contract COVID-19. For some, COVID sore throat feels more scratchy than painful. .
COVID-19 symptoms vary from patient to patient. Some may only exhibit sore throat as their sole symptom. However, most people infected with COVID report other symptoms too, including:
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Loss of taste or smell
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- A general feeling of being unwell or malaise
- Body aches
How severe is COVID-19 sore throat pain?
Sore throat caused by COVID-19 is usually mild. Studies show that the Omicron variant causes milder symptoms (including sore throat) than the Delta variant and has a shorter infectious period as well.
How long does COVID sore throat last?
According to the CDC, sore throat caused by COVID usually lasts two to three days. A sore throat that is severe and lasts longer than five days may be indicative of another condition.
What Aare the other causes of a sore throat?
Just because you have a sore throat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are infected with COVID-19. Sore throat is a common symptom of many other illnesses, including:
- Other viral infections such as the common cold, flu, or mono
- A bacterial infection like Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes strep throat
- Seasonal allergies
- A sinus infection
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- HIV infection
A sore throat could also be caused by environmental factors such as dry indoor air, eating spicy foods, smoking cigarettes, and exposure to volatile compounds and pollutants.
How is a sore throat treated?
A sore throat caused by a virus usually subsides on its own with some rest. However, sore throats caused by a bacterial infection may require antibiotics.
To manage your sore throat symptoms, consider the following remedies:
Drink plenty of fluids
One of the best things to do when dealing with sore throat symptoms is to make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Water, tea, and juice all provide symptom relief by keeping you hydrated and your throat moist.
Gargle with warm salty water
Gargling with warm, salty water can be a simple and inexpensive way to alleviate the discomfort brought on by a sore throat. Warm water with salt helps reduce inflammation in the throat by thinning mucus and reducing the number of harmful bacteria in your mouth.
This age-old remedy is an excellent alternative to over-the-counter products, especially when you need instant relief and don’t have access to other treatments.
Take over-the-counter medications
An assortment of medications exists to help alleviate the pain and misery associated with a sore throat. Some medications like lozenges, throat sprays, and cough syrups help soothe the throat, relieve irritation and inflammation, and suppress your urge to cough. Others, like antibiotics, tackle infection-causing bacteria like streptococci.
Before taking antibiotics, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider first. Improper use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, which can make it harder to treat future infections.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation and irritation
If you ‘are fighting a sore throat, you wi’ll want to avoid the following foods:
- Oily, fatty foods like French fries, bacon, burgers, and pizza
- Acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, grapes, peaches, and pineapples
- Hard foods like nuts, crackers, potato chips, or pretzels
- Spicy foods
- Foods that are high in sugar
- Alcohol and soda
Use a humidifier
If you have a very scratchy and dry throat or the air is particularly dry, consider using a humidifier to keep the air moist and rehydrate your mucus membranes.
Using a humidifier is also helpful if your sore throat is caused by a cold or flu. These illnesses congest your sinuses and force you to breathe through your mouth. When you do that, you end up drying out your throat and making the pain worse. A humidifier can help open up your sinuses and relieve nasal congestion.
Cut back on smoking
Cigarette smoke contains harmful toxins that irritate and damage the tissues that line your throat. The heat from a cigarette or pipe also dries out your throat, causing it to become inflamed.
While medications and home remedies can help reduce inflammation and ease pain, one of the most effective ways to treat a sore throat is by getting enough rest. Getting adequate sleep will allow your body to heal itself faster and lower your stress levels.
Note that intense stress “over-activates the immune system” and can exacerbate inflammation. As ironic as it sounds, the fastest way to heal is by taking it slow.
When to seek medical care for a sore throat
If you ha’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or have COVID symptoms, watch out for the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain that doesn’t let up
- Difficulty staying awake
- Gray or bluish lips, skin, or nail beds
Should these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately.
If you tested negative for COVID-19 and have a sore throat accompanied by other cold-like symptoms, you may have some kind of respiratory illness like tonsillitis or bronchitis. Viral illnesses and mild bacterial infections usually go away on their own with rest and medications to manage symptoms. However, severe bacterial infections must be treated with antibiotics.
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience a sore throat that lasts more than five days, gets worse over time, keeps you from eating or drinking, or causes neck swelling and long-term changes to your voice.
The bottom line
A sore throat is one of the earliest and most common symptoms of COVID-19. However, it can also be indicative of another illness such as the common cold, the flu, or mono.
The pain from a COVID sore throat can range from mild to severe and last for about two to three days. Should your sore throat persist for longer than a week, consult your doctor.