A sore throat is an uncomfortable part of being sick. But sometimes, your whole throat doesn’t get sore. What does it mean when only one side of your throat is sore? As it turns out, there are several possible causes for this literal pain in the neck.
Tonsillitis and tonsil stones
Your single-sided throat pain could be due to your tonsils. Tonsillitis is when your tonsils are inflamed by a viral or bacterial infection. If only one of the tonsils is infected, only one side of your throat will hurt. Debris such as mucus, dead cells, and skin can also get stuck in the crevices of your tonsils. This buildup is called tonsil stones, and while people don’t always know they have them, in some cases they can grow large enough to cause a sore throat and trouble swallowing. Like with tonsillitis, they can affect just one tonsil. Smaller tonsil stones can be removed at home, but larger stones and recurrent tonsillitis can be treated with tonsil removal (tonsillectomy).
An abscess is an infection that creates an isolated collection of pus in your body. You may have noticed something similar on your skin with lesions or infections in the past. A peritonsillar abscess is one that forms behind one of your tonsils and is often related to bacterial tonsillitis. Your throat will feel much sorer on the side with the abscess. It is recommended to see a physician who can drain the abscess in the office.
Swollen lymph nodes
When you are sick, your lymph nodes act as a filter and help trap germs so the infection doesn’t spread. When they swell, they too can make your throat feel sore. If you have an infection such as strep throat, an ear infection, a cold, the flu, an ear infection, or a tooth infection, your lymph nodes may swell. Swollen lymph nodes due to an infection may be treated with antibiotics or antiviral medication depending on the cause, while a warm compress can provide some relief from the swelling.
If you have a cold or nasal congestion stemming from allergies or sinus infections with a runny nose, fluid may drain down the back of your throat. Constant drainage could irritate your throat, particularly one side. Postnasal drip can be remedied with nasal sprays, nasal irrigations, or with a humidifier at home to increase moisture in your environment.
Acid reflux is when stomach acid reverses direction out of the stomach and into the esophagus and possibly the throat and upper airway. Acid reflux can be worse when you’re lying down. As a result, someone with acid reflux who sleeps on one side may find the acid affecting one side of their throat. While acid reflux or GERD may be prevalent in your life, you can mitigate it by avoiding spicy foods, alcohol, and other foods that may exacerbate the condition.
If you burn yourself with hot food or scrape your throat with food that has a sharp edge, you could hurt one side of your throat. If you notice bleeding or difficulty swallowing or breathing, you may need immediate medical attention.
Vocal cord lesions
All of these conditions have other symptoms beyond just a sore throat. It’s important to discuss all of them with your doctor to determine the specific cause.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. To make an appointment with any of CEENTA’s ENT doctors, you may schedule online, through myCEENTAchart, or by calling 704-295-3000.