What Causes Swollen Throat and How is it Treated

Swollen Throat

A swollen throat is often accompanied by soreness, painful swallowing, and scratchiness. This medical condition is called pharyngitis.

Mostly this condition does not indicate a severe condition, but it can be discomforting. A swollen throat may or may not be indicative of another illness, such as flu or strep throat.

According to the Mayo Clinic, apart from swelling and soreness, there can be throat tightening and pain while breathing.

If a sore throat is accompanied by headaches, rashes, vomiting, runny nose, cough and fever, it might mean that there is a serious medical condition at play here.

It would be wise to get yourself checked up by a professional medical practitioner. Sometimes, inflammation of the tonsils and pharynx, the area behind the nasal cavity and mouth, can be seen as well.

What Causes Swollen Throat?

What Causes Swollen Throat?

A swollen throat is mostly caused by a viral infection. The most common viruses to result in a swollen throat are the common cold virus, influenza virus, and mononucleosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, measles and chicken pox are other less common viruses.

Swollen throats can also be a result of bacterial infection. According to Medline Plus, strep throat is the most common bacterial infection. Other bacterial infections are tonsillitis and diphtheria.

Both viruses and bacteria most act through the nose and the mouth as a result of airborne pathogens or coming in contact with someone already infected. Other causes of a sore throat are allergies, pollution, dry air, tumors and HIV infection.

Some common causes of a swollen throat are listed below:

1. Post-Nasal Drip

Post nasal drip takes place when mucus from the nasal passages drops backward into the throat.

Even though this is normally and hardly ever felt, it can be irritating if the mucus is infected with bacteria or allergies. Sometimes it can irritate the throat, which might lead to a shallow cough or throat clearing.

2. Goiter

Goiter is the medical term for the enlargement of the thyroid gland. This can be caused by several reasons like inflammation due to autoimmune mechanisms or infections and masses such as nodules.

Sometimes the swelling is prominent in the neck and might press against the throat. A lot of people complain of throat tightening, which is often mistaken for swelling.

3. Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a form of allergic reaction. It is a severe allergic reaction, and it can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

In this reaction, the immune system reacts frantically in the presence of certain triggers. Certain foods and drugs are among common triggers, but it’s not the actual cause.

Immune hypersensitivity is the reason that anaphylaxis takes place and it starts within seconds to minutes after consuming something that can trigger it.

4. Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is one of the most common reasons behind a swollen throat. The acidic contents of the stomach can rise into the esophagus and go as up as the throat.

Most parts of the tract do not have the same protective mechanisms as the stomach.

Hence, acid reflux can cause chemical damage to the throat tissue, and this can trigger inflammation, inevitably leading to a swollen throat.

How to Treat a Swollen Throat?

A swollen throat requires a course of antibiotics that need to be taken without any gaps, and it is crucial that one does not stop the course even if they feel fine.

However, viral throat infections cannot be treated with medication. To heal from a viral infection, the patient needs to rest and take plenty of fluids throughout the day.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, viral infections take up to 10 days to heal from, but a swollen throat caused by mononucleosis can take over four weeks.

Several things like gargling with warm salt water, sucking on throat lozenges, candy or popsicles, and taking a pain reliever are said to help with the pain and the discomfort.

Some home remedies that can help with a swollen throat are as followed:

Drink More Fluids

Drink More Fluids

The Mayo Clinic says that increasing your intake of fluids may speed up the process of healing. They recommend warm soup, tea, water and fruit juices.

Adding honey or lemon to a glass of warm water or tea can reduce the amount of mucus in your throat. You can also try sucking on cough drops or hard candy. This will help coat the throat.


You can use a humidifier or a vaporizer to help moisturize your nasal and throat passages. According to the Mayo Clinic, usi.ng a humidifier regularly can help hinder the growth of irritating bacteria.

Avoid Irritants

While you may be an active smoker, it would be wise to give the habit a rest until your throat heals. Cleaning product fumes and other toxins can also cause your throat’s condition to worsen.

Gargle with Salt Water

Gargle with Salt Water

It is recommended to gargle with salt water at least three times a day to help a swollen throat heal.

Mix half a teaspoon salt into warm water and gargle, but make sure that you do not swallow. This will help in getting rid of the extra mucus caught in your throat.

Related Reading: Feeling Like Something is Stuck in the Throat, How do I Get it Out? 


One of the best methods to prevent a swollen throat would be washing your hands frequently. Avoiding direct, physical contact with people who are sick and not sharing utensils or drinks with others is essential.

Installing a humidifier in the house might help lower the risk of the family members ending up with a swollen throat.

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Dr. David Cummings, MD

David Cummings, MD, is a medical reviewer and editor at Daily Health Cures. David received his medical degree from the University of Illinois.