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Is Sore Throat a Symptom of COVID-19? What Else Could It Be?

Sore throat is a symptom for COVID, flu, cold, strep throat and allergies

Young woman with sore throat covers her neck and nurses self with liquids.

Sore throat is a symptom for COVID, flu, cold, strep throat and allergies

Your throat is scratchy and raw, and you feel miserable. Given the times we’re living in, you think you might have COVID-19. But before deciding you have a life-threatening infectious disease, understand that your sore throat could also mean you have something less serious.


COVID-19 is a respiratory illness like the common cold and seasonal flu, but more deadly. People with COVID-19 may get a sore throat, but not as often as they might get other symptoms of the coronavirus. Those main symptoms include fever, fatigue, dry cough, shortness of breath and loss of sense of smell.


However, if you’re experiencing any COVID symptoms or have no symptoms but have been around someone with COVID-19, stay home and call your doctor to assess your symptoms and get recommendations.


Most people with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and can recover while isolating at home. If your symptoms worsen, seek medical care right away.

If not COVID-19, what else could it be?

Most sore throats are caused by viral infections that are not limited to COVID-19.


“Your sore throat could be a sign of a viral infection associated with seasonal flu or the common cold,” says Russell Zane, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medicine Center Carlsbad. “Like COVID, flu and cold are contagious, but are not as deadly and can be treated at home with over-the-counter medicines, fluids and plenty of rest.”


Flu is more serious than a cold and its symptoms more closely resemble that of COVID-19. It’s important to know the difference between flu and COVID to help determine proper treatment.

 

For example:


  • Symptoms of COVID-19 that are different from the flu include loss of taste or smell.
  • People tend to develop flu symptoms one to four days after infection. COVID-19 symptoms may appear two to 14 days after infection.
  • A vaccine for COVID-19 is still in the process of being widely distributed. The flu vaccine is already widely available. It’s not too late to get a flu shot to prevent flu.


A sore throat could also be a sign of strep throat, which is less common but may require treatment with antibiotics if due to a bacterial infection.


Allergies can also cause a sore throat along with other more familiar symptoms, such as itchy or watery eyes, itchy nose and ears, runny nose and sneezing. Knowing what’s causing the allergic reaction is important so you can avoid it. Over-the-counter or prescription medications can help alleviate symptoms.

Six treatments for sore throat

If you have a mild sore throat and don’t suspect you have COVID-19, try these six simple home remedies to feel better.

1.  Anti-inflammatories

Anti-inflammatories are one of the most effective remedies for sore throats. Nonprescription medicines that may already be in your medicine cabinet, such as ibuprofen, can ease the swelling associated with a sore throat and make you feel better.


“If you have asthma, stomach or kidney issues, avoid aspirin or ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is an option for pain relief if an anti-inflammatory cannot be used,” Dr. Zane says.

2.  Gargle

Gargle with water several times a day. Combine one teaspoon of table salt with eight ounces of warm water. Stir until the salt dissolves, gargle for several seconds and spit out. The warm saltwater helps temporarily relieve sore and scratchy throat discomfort.

3.  Lozenges and sprays

Over-the-counter throat lozenges and sprays can help by stimulating saliva production, which can help keep your throat moist. Many lozenges contain menthol, which numbs the tissue in your throat. “Avoid giving lozenges to young children as they are a choking hazard,” Dr. Zane says.

4.  Hydrate

Drink fluids, such as water, warm teas or soups, to stay hydrated and relieve an irritated throat. Adding some honey to your tea or warm water may increase the soothing properties as honey can help to reduce swelling and discomfort. If you choose chicken soup, you will be getting some of the nutrients you need in addition to the hydration value. Avoid drinks that are too hot as this could irritate your throat.

5.  Use a vaporizer or humidifier

Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture and eliminate dry air. “Breathing in moist air can help soothe swollen tissue in your nose and throat,” Dr. Zane says.

6.  Rest

Rest is important to give your body time to heal. Make sure you get enough sleep at night and take it easy until you feel better.