Sore Throat Can Be a Symptom of COVID-19

It's not nearly as common as fever or dry cough.

You've undoubtedly had a sore throat before—either a scratchy nuisance or something that makes you flinch each time you swallow. But is having a sore throat a symptom of a coronavirus infection?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can be. The CDC's official list of COVID-19 symptoms includes a cough, shortness of breath, fever, shaking with chills, headache, loss of smell or taste, muscle pain, and sore throat.

Causes of Sore Throat

A sore throat isn't very common in COVID-19 patients. "Currently, we estimate that sore throat occurs in about 10% of coronavirus cases," Michael Lerner, MD, a Yale Medicine laryngologist explained to Health.

Sore throat is a very common and non-specific symptom (aka, a symptom that is self-reported and doesn't indicate a specific disease) and will feel the same whether you have a cold, the flu, coronavirus, or even strep throat according to a 2020 review article published in Canadian Family Physician. That means if you experience one, it can be difficult to determine whether it is COVID-related based solely on the symptom alone. However, due to the low percentage of individuals with confirmed cases of the virus listing it as a symptom, it is more likely that it's not COVID-related.

"Sore throat can be caused by viral or bacterial infections, can be due to other inflammatory conditions like allergies, post-nasal drip, and even acid reflux, or can be due to something as simple as dryness or dehydration," Dr. Lerner pointed out. Overall, inflammation is the cause of throat soreness, due to local damage to the lining of the throat, said Dr. Lerner.

Stress can also be a contributing factor. "Stress is known to aggravate all sorts of pain and this is also true with sore throat," said Dr. Lerner. Additionally, stress can lead people to habitually and aggressively clear their throats which traumatizes the area further. But, according to Dr. Lerner, you don't have to be worried about your face mask giving you a sore throat unless you're allergic to the mask or if it's developed mold somehow.

Still, even if your sore throat is accompanied by other symptoms—fever, headache, dry cough—the only way to truly know if your sore throat is due to COVID-19 is to get tested for the virus.

Treating a Sore Throat From COVID-19

In terms of treatment of a sore throat due to COVID-19 or any other viral infection, Dr. Lerner explained that it will improve on its own as the virus runs its course. However, "supportive measures"—drinking plenty of water, using throat lozenges, enlisting humidifiers—can help.

Patients can also use over-the-counter numbing sprays like Cepacol, or pain relievers like Tylenol and Motrin to help treat the pain. If you think your sore throat is stress-related, Dr. Lerner suggested "staying calm, hydrating, and just taking a throat lozenge" during those much-needed moments.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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