Sore throat on one side: Causes and treatment

Sore throat on one side
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mandy Liedeman

Overview

A sore throat is a frequent illness that might present differently on one side of the body. A scratchy, painful feeling in the back of the throat characterizes it. Ancient Greek physicians believed that imbalances in bodily fluids caused illnesses, including sore throats. The concept of “humor” influencing health prevailed for centuries.

Today, modern medicine offers a more nuanced understanding. If one side of your throat is hurting, it can stem from various causes, such as bacterial or viral allergies, infections, or environmental irritants. Proper diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment.

This blog explains the causes of this intriguing condition and the treatment options. Read on to learn a deeper understanding of sore throats, reminding us that health is a harmonious balance of body, mind, and soul.

Why do I have a sore throat on one side?

A sore throat on one side can be attributed to various underlying causes. Understanding these causes is crucial for appropriate treatment. Here is a detailed explanation of each:

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis happens when the tonsils become inflamed and swollen, which is more prevalent in children than adults. Approximately 70% of tonsillitis cases are caused by viruses like the flu virus, although bacteria can also be responsible. If you experience pain on only one side of your throat, it may indicate that only one of your tonsils is infected.

Treatment

If a bacterial infection causes tonsillitis, your family doctor may prescribe antibiotics. However, if it is due to a viral infection, you may need to wait for it to resolve on its own while soothing your sore throat with the following methods:

  • Gargling salt water 
  • To maintain moisture in the air in your bedroom, use a humidifier. Adding vapor rub may improve your throat.
  • Using lozenges
  • Drinking warm liquids.

Cold or the flu

A throat pain on one side of the patient can be a sign of the flu or a cold. Viral infections can irritate and inflame the throat’s tissues, causing pain and discomfort that may be worse on one side. Sore throats can also be brought on by viruses that cause colds and the flu, especially after swallowing.

Treatment

Treatment options to treat symptoms like fever, congestion, and sore throat include rest, fluids, and over-the-counter drugs. Severe flu cases may require the prescription of antiviral medications.

Canker sores

Small, excruciating ulcers called canker sores can appear anywhere in the mouth, including the throat. Although the reason is unknown, it could be connected to immune system issues, stress, or particular diets.

Treatment

It usually takes a week or two for canker sores to heal independently. Topical medicines available over the counter can aid with pain relief. Eating less acidic or spicy food may help reduce inflammation.

Woke up with a sore throat on one side? Consult a doctor now for a diagnosis and treatment.

Peritonsillar abscess

A peritonsillar abscess can cause a sore throat on one side. This condition often develops as a complication of untreated tonsillitis, where pus accumulates near one of the tonsils. The abscess can cause significant pain and discomfort, especially when swallowing. It may also lead to referred pain in the ear on the same side. Immediate attention is necessary to drain it and treat the underlying infection.

Treatment

Treatment involves drainage of the abscess, usually by needle aspiration or incision and drainage. Antibiotics are also prescribed to clear the infection. In severe cases, tonsillectomy may be necessary.

Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes on a single side of the neck may cause a painful throat. Lymph nodes, part of the immune system, can grow in response to illnesses such as the flu, colds, and throat infections. Swelling of lymph nodes can pressure the neck and other nearby tissues, hurting or creating discomfort, especially during swallowing. If the underlying reason for the enlargement of the lymph nodes is addressed, the painful throat might go away.

Treatment

Therapy is based on the underlying reason. Antiviral drugs and antibiotics may be administered for infections. Corticosteroids can be used to treat inflammatory disorders. The type and stage of cancer determine the therapy options.

Postnasal drip

Postnasal drip occurs when excess mucus accumulates in the back of the nose and throat, often leading to a sore throat. When this mucus irritates the throat, it can cause discomfort, which may be more pronounced on one side. Postnasal drip can result from allergies, sinus infections, or colds. The excess mucus can also drip down into the throat, leading to irritation and soreness. 

Treatment

Treatment addresses the underlying cause, such as allergies or sinus infections. This may include antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, or saline nasal irrigation.

Feeling throat pain on one side when swallowing? Consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Ear infection

Otitis media, a form of ear infection, can cause sore throats on one side of the body. When middle ear infections afflict the same side of the ear, pain that radiates to the throat is a common symptom. The Eustachian tube, which joins the middle ear to the throat, can become blocked by an infection, causing pressure and discomfort in the ears and throat.  

Treatment

Antibiotics are used in treatment to eradicate the infection. It could be advised to use painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease pain. Ear tubes may occasionally be implanted to aid in removing fluid from the ear.

Laryngitis

Laryngitis is the voice box (larynx) inflammation, often caused by viral infections, vocal strain, or irritants. When the larynx is inflamed, it can cause a sore throat, which may be more noticeable on one side. The inflammation can lead to hoarseness, loss of voice, and throat discomfort. Resting the voice, staying hydrated, and avoiding irritants can help alleviate laryngitis and the associated sore throat.

Treatment

Voice rest, hydration, and avoiding irritants like smoke and excessive speech are all part of the treatment. Corticosteroids may be administered in some situations to treat inflammation.

GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)

One side of the throat may become uncomfortable due to Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Acid reflux, a disorder when stomach acid escapes the stomach and re-enters the esophagus, causes this. The acid hurting the throat may be the reason for the burning or sore feeling in the throat, which could be more severe on one side. Chest pain, regurgitation, and heartburn are further signs of GERD. 

Treatment

Lifestyle modifications, including cutting back on trigger foods, getting in shape, and raising the head of the bed, are all part of the treatment. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers are two examples of medications that doctors may give to lower stomach acid.

Neuralgia conditions

Neuralgia conditions like glossopharyngeal neuralgia can cause a sore throat on one side. This condition includes irritation or damage to the glossopharyngeal nerve, which supplies sensation to the throat, tongue, and ear. The nerve dysfunction can result in sharp, stabbing pain on one side of the throat. 

Treatment

Treatment may include medications to reduce nerve pain, such as anticonvulsants or tricyclic antidepressants. Nerve blocks or surgery may be considered for severe cases.

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis, often caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, can lead to a severe sore throat, sometimes affecting only one side. Other symptoms may include fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.

Treatment

Taking breaks, staying hydrated, and using over-the-counter painkillers can all help reduce symptoms. A physician could recommend antiviral drugs or corticosteroids to lessen inflammation in extreme situations.

Allergies 

Allergies trigger inflammation and irritation in the throat, leading to soreness. Postnasal drip from allergies can also cause a sore throat, and this discomfort may be more pronounced on one side if the irritation is concentrated there.

Treatment

Identifying and avoiding allergens can help prevent allergic reactions and subsequent sore throats. Antihistamines or corticosteroids may also be prescribed to manage symptoms.

Tumor or growth

A growth or tumor in the throat may cause a sore throat on one side. These growths may be malignant, cancerous, benign, or neither. They can appear in the tonsils, voice box (larynx), or pharynx, among other throat regions. Other symptoms include a sore throat that doesn’t go away, trouble swallowing, earache, or a lump in the neck

Treatment

Treatment depends on the nature of the growth. Benign tumors may be surgically removed if causing symptoms. Malignant tumors may require surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination.

Feeling like your throat is swollen? Consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

Consult a doctor 

See a doctor if you have the following:

  • A solid or prolonged sore throat
  • Breathing or swallowing difficulties
  • A high temperature (above 38.3°C, or 101°F)
  • Feel rashy or achy joints in addition to sore throat
  • Recurring bouts of sore throat or tonsillitis
  • Been given a diagnosis of strep throat and, despite taking medication for 48 hours, they are not getting better
  • A compromised immune system brought on by a disease or treatment
  • I got a sore throat after coming into contact with someone who has strep throat or another infectious disease.

FAQs about sore throat on one side

Why does one side of my throat and ears hurt when I swallow?

When you swallow, one side of your throat and ears may pain because of an infection or inflammation in that side’s tonsils, throat, or ear. The common cold, strep throat, mono, sinus infections, dental infections, allergies, TMJ, and acid reflux are some causes of this.  

What kills a throat infection fast overnight?

Try gargling with warm salt water, consuming herbal teas with honey, and applying throat lozenges or sprays that include numbing agents if you want to get rid of a throat infection fast overnight. Recovery can also be accelerated with rest and proper hydration.

How can you tell if a sore throat is viral or bacterial?

The symptoms of a sore throat usually indicate whether it is bacterial or viral. In contrast to bacterial sore throats, which frequently present with nausea and vomiting, stomach aches, and runny nose, viral sore throats are characterized by coughing, throat swelling, and runny nose.

Why does the right side of my neck hurt when I swallow?

When swallowing, pain on the right side of your neck could be due to inflamed lymph nodes, indicating an infection in the throat, ear, or surrounding areas. Other possible causes include muscle strain, acid reflux, or nerve irritation. 

When should I worry about neck pain on the right side?

You should be concerned about right-sided neck pain if it is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as fever, difficulty swallowing or breathing, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, or if you have a history of cancer or recent trauma. 

What causes ear pain and sore throat on one side

On one side, ear pain and sore throat can be caused by conditions such as tonsillitis, peritonsillar abscess, ear infection (otitis media), or referred pain from structures in the throat or ear. Less commonly, it can be due to conditions like tumors or neuralgia. 

Can salt water help my sore throat on one side?

Yes, gargling using salt water can help reduce inflammation and kill bacteria to help relieve a sore throat on one side. Gargle with a solution made of half a teaspoon of salt and warm water for 15 to 30 seconds before spitting it out. For relief, repeat multiple times a day.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Flexman, Alana M., and Laura V. Duggan. “Postoperative sore throat: inevitable side effect or preventable nuisance?.” Canadian Journal of Anesthesia 66.9 (2019): 1009-1013.
  • Tanz, Robert R. “Sore throat.” Nelson pediatric symptom-based diagnosis (2018): 1.
  • Schachtel, Bernard P., et al. “Sore throat pain in the evaluation of mild analgesics.” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics 44.6 (1988): 704-711.
  • Little, Paul, and Ian Williamson. “Sore throat management in general practice.” Family Practice 13.3 (1996): 317-321.

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