HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

Table of Contents

 Section I–Common Health Problems Caution

Previous Topic | Next Topic

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

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

Swollen neck glands

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

Sores on the roof of the mouth

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


A bacterial or viral infection, such as strep throat, tonsillitis, or mononucleosis

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

Tobacco or marijuana smoke

Air pollution, dry air and/or allergies

Postnasal drip

 Self-induced vomiting

Acquiring an infection from oral sex with an infected partner


If an infection is suspected, your health care provider may take a throat culture. If streptococcus or any other type of bacteria is present, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic. Be sure you take all of the antibiotic, even if you are feeling better. If strep throat is inadequately treated, other conditions, such as rheumatic fever can occur.

Questions to Ask

With a sore throat, do you have severe shortness of breath, are you unable to swallow your own saliva, or are you unable to say more than 4 or 5 words between breaths? Yes. Get Immediate Care.



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

  • Fever
  • Swollen, enlarged neck glands
  • Ear pain
  • Bad breath
  • Skin rash
  • Dark urine
Yes. See Provider.


Do your tonsils or does the back of your throat look bright red or have visible pus deposits? Yes. See Provider.


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


Has even a mild sore throat lasted more than 2 weeks? Yes. Call Provider.



To Prevent Getting a Sore Throat:

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

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

To Treat a Sore Throat:

Gargle every 2 to 3 hours with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of salt mixed in 1 cup of warm water.
Drink plenty of warm beverages, such as tea with lemon (with or without honey) and soup.
For strep throat, drink and eat cold liquids and foods, such as frozen yogurt and popsicles.
Use a cool-mist vaporizer in your room. If you get a sore throat often, consider putting a portable air purifier in your room.
Don’t smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollution.
Avoid eating spicy foods.
Suck on a piece of hard candy, cough drop, or medicated lozenge every 2 to 4 hours.
Take an over-the-counter medicine for the pain and/or fever. (See “OTC Medications for "Pain relief".)
If prescribed an antibiotic, take all of it.

February 19, 2004

©2003, 4th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.