How to Determine Cause of Sore Throat

Woman in cold with sore throat
Not all sore throats are caused by bacteria, so antibiotics aren't always the right treatment.

One of the most common conditions treated at Mizzou Urgent Care is the sore throat. A sore throat can make you feel miserable — it can affect eating and drinking, talking and even sleep. Many times, patients ask for an antibiotic, but antibiotics are not always the answer.

Sore throats usually are caused by one of three things — allergies, bacteria or a virus.


Allergy symptoms are the most common cause of a sore throat during the warmer months. Sinus drainage can cause an irritating discomfort. Sore throat due to allergies is most often improved with treatment of the allergy symptoms.


The bacteria that most commonly causes a sore throat is streptococcus. Patients with so-called strep throat often report a sudden onset of severe sore throat and fever. Other symptoms might include white spots on the tonsils, headache, stomach upset and decreased appetite. A strep test takes about 15 minutes. Patients with strep throat are typically treated with antibiotics.


If your sore throat is not caused by allergy symptoms or bacteria, a virus usually is to blame. Viruses are the most common cause of sore throats and can occur with other symptoms that can accompany a cold, such as nasal congestion, sneezing and eye irritation. Antibiotics do not work for viruses. The best treatment is to use a warm salt water gargle to reduce the irritation. Patients can also try throat lozenges and over-the-counter pain relievers. Also remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

If you aren’t feeling well, aren’t able to see your primary care physician and are not sure if you should go to Mizzou Quick Care, Mizzou Urgent Care or the emergency room, check out our guide: Choosing the Right Level of Care. Our goal is to take care of your acute injury and illness needs so you can return to your busy life.