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Is a Sore Throat a Typical Symptom of COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, also known as the new coronavirus. COVID-19 can have a wide variety of symptoms, including a sore throat.
But a sore throat is only one of the symptoms that may develop due to COVID-19. Some other symptoms are much more common.
In this article we’ll explore a sore throat as a symptom of COVID-19, other symptoms to watch out for, and when to seek medical care.
Is a sore throat a common symptom of COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms that develop with COVID-19 can vary from one person to another.
A sore throat can be one symptom of COVID-19. At this point in time, it isn’t well documented when exactly a sore throat occurs in the course of the infection.
In other respiratory illnesses, like the common cold, a sore throat is often an early symptom. Because respiratory viruses are inhaled, they enter your nose and throat first. They may replicate there early on, leading to throat soreness and irritation.
Overall, a sore throat isn’t a very common COVID-19 symptom. A study in China, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), found that out of more than 55,000 confirmed cases, only 13.9 percent of people reported a sore throat.
Two smaller studies in China have also found that a sore throat is a less common COVID-19 symptom. One study reported it in only 5 percent of cases, while the other reported a sore throat in 7.1 percent of cases.
What other symptoms are often warning signs of COVID-19?
Other symptoms are more common signs of COVID-19. According to the WHO, the three most common symptoms are:
Along with a sore throat, other less common COVID-19 symptoms that have been reported include:
- shortness of breath
- body aches and pains
- runny or stuffy nose
- digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- loss of smell or taste
Keep in mind that we’re still learning more about the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the illness it causes, every day. Because of this, the type and frequency of symptoms could change as more are discovered.
COVID-19 symptoms vs. cold or flu symptoms
If you develop a sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory infection, how do you know if it’s due to COVID-19, a cold, or the seasonal flu?
The simple answer: The only sure way to rule out COVID-19 is to be tested for it.
Other factors can also help you distinguish between these three illnesses:
- COVID-19. Symptoms often develop gradually. To date, the most commonly reported symptoms are fever, cough, and fatigue. Other symptoms occur with less frequency.
- Common cold. Symptoms can also appear gradually. But the most common early symptoms are sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. Fevers can occur, but are typically rare.
- Flu. Symptoms come on suddenly. The flu shares many symptoms with COVID-19. But common flu symptoms — like chills, headache, and body aches and pains — are less common with COVID-19.
What should you do if you have concerning symptoms?
If you develop a sore throat or other symptoms and think you may have COVID-19, take the following steps:
- Stay home. Plan to go out only to seek medical care. If you live with other people, try to distance yourself from them as much as possible.
- Call your doctor. Let them know about your symptoms. They’ll give you information on how to care for yourself while you’re ill and may also arrange for you to be tested for COVID-19.
- Keep track of your symptoms. Most people with COVID-19 can recover at home; however, about 1 in 5 people develops a more serious illness. If your symptoms begin to worsen, get prompt medical attention.
What can help ease your sore throat?
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated while you recover. Warm liquids like broths or tea with honey may help to soothe throat irritation and soreness.
- Try gargling with a salt water solution to help lessen sore throat pain.
- Suck on throat lozenges or hard candies, which can help keep your throat moist by stimulating saliva production.
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Taking a steamy shower may also help ease throat irritation.
- Rest up to help your body’s immune system fight off the infection.
- Consider using over-the-counter medications to ease pain. Examples include acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin.
When to seek medical care
Seek immediate medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or pressure
- lips, face, or nails that appear blue in color
- mental confusion
- trouble staying awake or difficulty waking up
The bottom line
A sore throat is a potential symptom of COVID-19. But it’s less common than other symptoms, such as fever, cough, and fatigue.
If you have a sore throat or other symptoms and think you may have COVID-19, stay home and call your doctor to discuss your symptoms. They can let you know how to care for yourself and may suggest that you get tested for COVID-19.
Although most cases of COVID-19 are mild, some may progress to a serious illness. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical care if you experience symptoms like trouble breathing or chest pain.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Sirisha Yellayi, DO— Written by Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D.
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