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Most people have suffered a burning sore throat on more than one occasion. While this painful condition is generally a direct result of the inflammation of the pharynx, tonsil, and larynx tissues, the inflammation itself has a number of possible causes. In many cases, a burning sore throat is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It is sometimes also caused by exposure to external allergens or pollutants, or even by irritants found within the body. Much less commonly, a sore throat can be symptomatic of a serious underlying medical condition such as cancer.
Viral infections such as influenza and the common cold are frequently to blame for a burning sore throat. Often, the throat tissues swell as part of the immune system’s response to viral infection, causing tenderness and difficulty swallowing. In addition, the excess mucus produced during illness sometimes seeps downward from the nasal passages into the throat. This phenomenon, known as postnasal drip, can further irritate the throat’s lining.
Bacterial infections like tonsillitis and strep throat can also cause a burning sore throat. As with viral infections, the throat tissue often swells as part of the immune system’s response to the presence of foreign bacteria in the body. In many cases, sore throats caused by bacterial infections are more painful than those associated with viral infections. It is also important to note that bacterial infections can be highly contagious, and thus should usually be treated with antibiotics.
Sometimes a burning sore throat is caused by exposure to an external allergen or pollutant. For instance, those allergic to pets may suffer a swollen sore throat when they come into contact with animal fur or dander. Sustained exposure to environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke or cleaning chemicals can cause a similar response.
In some cases, a burning sore throat may be caused by an internal irritant. For instance, in the condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a malfunctioning flap of esophageal muscle allows acid from the stomach to work its way into the throat. The harshness of this acid irritates the throat tissues, causing them to become inflamed and sore.
Far less commonly, a burning sore throat can be symptomatic of an acute underlying condition like cancer. Soreness, in this case, is often caused by the presence of a tumor in the throat area. Those who experience a chronic or frequently recurring sore throat should consult a physician to rule out the possibility of a serious illness.