A sore throat on one side is a one-sided sore throat or a sore throat that you feel on one side when swallowing. Sore throats can range from irritating to excruciating. Everyone has had a sore throat at some point. A sore throat can occur all over the throat, but sore throat can also be felt on one side of your throat: on the left or right side of your throat.
There are many possible causes of pain on one side of your throat, even if you no longer have tonsils. For example, a sore throat on one side can be caused by postnasal drip, canker sores, an abscess, and other conditions. Depending on the cause, a sore throat may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as ear pain and swollen lymph nodes.
Causes of sore throat on one side
Most people have experienced a sore throat at least once in their lives. The discomfort is often caused by a cold virus. If only one side of your throat hurts, this could point to a specific cause of your symptoms, such as those related to your tonsils, lymph nodes, or lymphatic tissue. Or the sore throat could simply be the result of a tooth abscess or infection.
Swollen lymph nodes
Some diseases and conditions cause pain on only one side of the throat. The body’s lymph nodes act like filters, identifying and trapping germs such as viruses and bacteria before they can infect other areas. As they perform this important work, the lymph nodes can swell and become painful. The lymph nodes closest to the throat are located on either side of the neck.
These nodes can cause a feeling of pain when they become swollen or inflamed. Many diseases and infections lead to swollen lymph nodes. Sometimes just one node in the area is swollen and painful, causing a sore throat on one side can cause. Some conditions that can lead to swollen lymph nodes are:
- cold or flu
- an ear infection
- jaw abscess
- Pfeiffer’s disease
- infections in the skin
Unilateral sore throat due to canker sores
Canker sores are small sores that form in your mouth. They can form on the inside of your cheeks and on or under your tongue, on your lips, or at the back of your throat. Most canker sores are small and round with a red border and a white or yellow center.
Although they are small, they can be quite painful. When an aphthous ulcer has formed in the back of the throat, you may feel pain on one side. Most canker sores heal on their own within two weeks, so without further treatment. Over-the-counter remedies can provide relief, such as gargling with baking soda.
Common viral illnesses, such as the common cold or flu, can cause a sore throat. In these cases, the throat may hurt on one side. With a bad cold, mucus and fluid can run down the back of the throat. This is known as a postnasal drip.
With postnasal drip, the mucous membranes at the back of the nasal cavity are enlarged and this causes more mucus to be released. Continual mucus supply can irritate the throat, leading to a feeling of pain or irritation. A specific part of the throat can become more irritated by these complaints. It may feel like one side is raw and inflamed.
Tonsillitis or tonsillitis
Tonsillitis or tonsillitis indicates inflammation of one or more tonsils. The tonsils are located at the back of the throat, and a virus or bacteria is usually the culprit. An infection in just one tonsil can cause pain on one side of the throat. It can also cause fever and difficulty swallowing. The tonsils are swollen and red, sometimes showing white dots and pus. The lymph nodes in the neck can also be painful and swollen.
Peritonsillar abscess or throat abscess
A peritonsillar abscess or throat abscess requires immediate medical attention. An abscess is a pus-filled swelling in body tissue. It is caused by a bacterial infection. A peritonsillar abscess or throat abscess forms in the tissues near the tonsils, usually when tonsillitis becomes severe or goes untreated.
It can cause severe pain on one side of your throat. It can also cause fever, swollen lymph nodes, and difficulty swallowing. If you have a throat abscess, you need urgent medical care. In severe cases, it can interfere with breathing.
Damage to the throat
Many things can damage the back of the mouth or throat, including:
- burns from hot food or liquid
- foods with sharp edges, such as chips or crackers
- endotracheal intubation, which means inserting a breathing tube into the trachea to secure the airway and allow you to breathe artificially
Gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that causes stomach contents, including stomach acid, to reflux into the esophagus and throat. Reflux can be more intense at night and while lying down. If stomach acid flows back when you lie on your side, it can cause pain in the side of the throat. Other symptoms of GERD include:
- pain or burning sensation in the center of the chest
- the sensation of a lump or object in the throat
- a dry cough
- burning in the mouth
If GERD is left untreated for too long, it can damage the esophagus and throat. The condition is treatable with medications and lifestyle changes.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is an infectious disease that causes spots and blisters to appear in the mouth, on the hands, and feet. Vesicles can develop in the back of the mouth, near the sides of the throat, and one side of the throat may be affected more than the other. Hand, foot, and mouth disease usually occurs in children under age 5, but can also spread to older children and adults.
A tooth abscess or infection
A periapical abscess or dental abscess is a local accumulation of pus after tissue death, caused by a bacterial infection. This abscess develops on the tip of the root of your tooth. It can cause severe pain that radiates to your jawbone ( jaw pain ) and your ear ( earache ) on one side of your face. The lymph nodes around your neck and throat may also be swollen and tender. Other symptoms that indicate your tooth is infected include:
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- sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
- pain while chewing
- swelling in your face or cheek
- tender, swollen lymph nodes under your jaw or on your neck
With inflammation of the throat (pharyngitis), the tonsils and mucous membrane of the throat are inflamed and the culprit is usually a virus. The main symptom of strep throat is a sore throat and pain when swallowing. In infectious strep throat, the other symptoms vary depending on whether the infection is viral or bacterial.
Sore throat due to strep throat is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- a red throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- dry cough
- Red eyes
- children can have diarrhea
Some viruses cause painful sores in and around the mouth, including the lips.
Streptococcus pyogenes is often the cause of a bacterial throat infection, which is accompanied by pain when swallowing and a red throat. The symptoms of bacterial strep throat are often more severe than viral strep throat. Other complaints that can occur are:
- muscle strain
- general malaise
- enlarged tonsils with white spots
- swollen, tender lymph nodes in the front of the neck
Children may also experience nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Vocal cord lesions
Vocal cord lesions are benign growths. They can consist of nodules, polyps, and cysts. Vocal trauma or overuse is associated with vocal cord lesions. A vocal cord polyp usually arises as a result of damage to the mucous membrane of the vocal cord and can be accompanied by hoarseness and other complaints.
Vocal cord lesions can result in hoarseness, difficulty breathing, loss of vocal range, vocal fatigue, or loss of voice. People with vocal cord nodules or polyps may experience their voices as harsh, hoarse, raspy, or scratchy. Pain is another symptom that may appear, especially stabbing pain from ear to ear, generalized neck pain, or a lump in the throat. Other complaints are coughing, laryngitis, or overall fatigue.
Unilateral sore throat due to tumor
Although one of the least common causes of a sore throat, tumors can occur in the throat and surrounding areas. These can be benign tumors or cancer. A tumor can cause pain on one side of the throat. It can be located at the back of the throat or tongue, or in the larynx. Usually, a tumor will also lead to symptoms that do not occur with common infections and diseases. You may suffer from:
- a lump in the neck
- a hoarse voice
- noisy breathing
- unexplained weight loss
- blood in the saliva or bloody mucus
- a persistent cough
Consult a doctor
If your throat is very sore on one side, the cause is usually a viral infection, such as a cold. However, it is important to see your doctor if the following symptoms also occur:
- an inability to eat or drink because of the sore throat
- a severe sore throat that lasts more than 7 days
- swollen lymph nodes that enlarge as the sore throat recovers
- difficulty breathing or a feeling that the throat is closing up
- problems swallowing
- pus at the back of the throat
- body aches or joint pain
- skin rash
- blood in the mouth
- coughing up blood
- a lump in the neck
- a sore throat that goes away and comes back
- hoarseness that lasts more than 2 weeks