Sore Throat on One Side: Causes and Treatments, Backed by Research

Sore Throat on One Side: Causes and Treatments
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Experiencing a sore throat once in a while is nothing unusual. However, having a painful sore throat on just one side is less common. Having a sore throat on just one side of your throat has a number of causes which may be quite obvious. Other causes of pain in just the left or right side of your throat require a careful medical examination especially if your sore throat is persistent.

For example, if you have had a wisdom tooth extracted, you may experience pain and swelling on that side of your throat. Other times, feeling pain on just the left or right side of the throat could be a serious complication of a throat infection. In some cases, a painful throat on only one side could be the result of damage to nerves.

Although there are some natural treatments to soothe the pain on one or the other side of your throat, you should always see a doctor for throat pain that is felt on only one side.

Causes of Sore Throat on One Side

Let’s look at some of the most common reasons why you can have a sore throat on one side.

Quinsy (peritonsillar abscess)

Quinsy is a complication of tonsillitis and causes pain on one side of your throat. Quinsy is also called a peritonsillar abscess which is a buildup of pus near one of your tonsils. You will most likely have a severe sore throat and feel pain and swelling on the left or right side of the throat around the abscess. Some people describe it as if only one tonsil hurts. The abscess swelling can become so severe that it blocks your throat making breathing and speaking difficult. You will also have white spots on your tonsils and on your throat.

Dr. Michael Friedman on WebMD explains that streptococcal bacterial infections that cause strep throat infect the surrounding tissue causing a peritonsillar abscess. When this happens, the bacteria usually infect just one side of the throat. Some of the other symptoms of quinsy are enlarged lymph glands in your neck, painful swallowing, fever, and ear pain on the side of the infection.1

Doctors from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom advise that you should see a doctor immediately at the first sign of quinsy. This is to prevent the infection causing more complications such as severe swelling in your throat.2

You can help to prevent a peritonsillar abscess from forming by treating tonsillitis at its earliest stage. To find some great natural ways for treating a tonsillitis (in conjunction with medical treatment), please read my article on the best home remedies for tonsillitis. It is important to highlight that tonsillitis can quickly develop into a much more complicated illness so it’s important to see your doctor immediately.

Dr. Freidman also recommends quitting smoking and maintaining good dental hygiene to reduce the risk of a peritonsillar abscess (quinsy) developing.3

Dental procedures

Various dental procedures could also be the reason why your throat is only sore on one side. Some dental issues that can cause one-sided throat pain are abscesses, tooth extraction, and gum inflammation.

Dental abscesses can cause pain and swelling in your gums and spread to adjacent areas. Dr. Rob Hicks on WebMD says that bacteria from a cavity can spread to the throat, cheeks and into the gums. This can cause pus to form in the infection which can cause swelling, pain, and difficulty swallowing.4 The pain will be felt on the side of the infection so you may feel pain on only one side of the throat.

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums and depending on where the inflammation occurs, it can cause pain on one or the other side of your throat. Dr. James T. Ubertalli from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine explains that gingivitis that is caused by an impacted tooth can cause infections to spread to the throat or cheek.5

Having a wisdom tooth extracted can cause pain on one side of your throat. When you have a wisdom tooth removed, you may also experience swelling in the muscles in your throat. It should go away after 2 to 3 days.

Dr. Hicks says that you can prevent many dental complications by maintaining good dental health. This includes regular daily brushing and flossing as well as visiting your dentist regularly for checkups.4 Also make sure you are not making these common teeth brushing mistakes.

You can also keep your mouth clean by swishing coconut oil which is called oil pulling. People who practice oil pulling absolutely swear by the great benefits oil pulling has done to their oral health, such as brightening their teeth, treating bleeding gums and gingivitis.

Vocal cord polyp

It’s not uncommon for a polyp to form on one side of your vocal cord causing discomfort on one side of the throat. As well as a feeling of something stuck in your throat, vocal cord polyps can cause voice disturbances.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery says that vocal cord polyps usually appear on just one side of the vocal cords. They are often caused by overuse of the vocal cords.6 The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) says that as well as neck pain, some of the vocal changes that polyps can cause are having a rough or scratchy voice and a shooting pain from ear to ear.7

The ASHA recommends seeing a doctor if you have a hoarse voice for more than 3 weeks.

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia

Severe and intense pain on just one side of your throat could be caused by glossopharyngeal neuralgia. This is a condition where nerves in the throat, tongue, or ear have been injured or damaged.

Neurosurgeon, Dr. John Tew says that glossopharyngeal neuralgia usually affects only one side of the throat. The pain is usually intense and sufferers say it’s like being jabbed or having an electric shock in the neck. Everyday activities like talking, swallowing, yawning, and laughing can bring on bouts of pain.8

Doctors usually prescribe medication to prevent nerve spasms and pain in the throat.

Home Remedies for Pain on One Side of Throat

You should always see a doctor for pain occurring on just your left or right side of your throat. Once you have had a thorough examination, you can try some of the home remedies below to help manage the pain better.

Cayenne pepper

To help reduce a painful sore throat that has been caused by a bacterial or viral infection, you can use cayenne pepper to get rid of the pain. Cayenne pepper contains a compound called capsaicin which gives chilies a spicy kick. However, capsaicin also has pain relieving properties.

A review of the medicinal properties of capsaicin published in the journal Pharmacological Reviews reported that a topical application of capsaicin paste helps to relieve various types of pain. The pain relief effect of capsaicin is caused by its ability to numb nerve receptors. The review also found that capsaicin has antibacterial properties and can help to kill off infection-causing bacteria and can help reduce inflammation.9

How to use:

To use cayenne pepper to make a pain relieving paste to treat a sore throat, this is what you should do:

  1. Mix 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper with 3 tablespoons of honey (the best type of honey is Manuka honey).
  2. Take 1 teaspoon of this mixture 3 times a day to relieve pain in one side of your throat (in conjunction with medical treatment). If it burns too much, add more honey to the mixture.
  3. Try not to drink water immediately after taking the mixture.
  4. Keep taking this remedy until the throat infection is completely gone and you no longer have a sore throat on the left or right side.

Salt water gargle

You can use a salt water gargle to help treat an infected sore throat. Of course, if you have a serious throat infection or even an abscess, you should seek professional medical advice first of all. However, a salt water gargle can help prevent a mild throat infection getting worse or it can help to heal a serious infection on one side of your throat that has already been treated by a doctor.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend a salt water gargle to ease the symptoms of a sore throat. Salt water is a natural antibacterial agent which can help to ease infections in the throat.10  

How to use:

To help prevent a mild strep throat infection getting worse, you can use a salt water gargle by following this home recipe:

  1. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt to a glass of warm water.
  2. Mix the salt thoroughly until it has all dissolved.
  3. Gargle a few times and spit the mixture out.
  4. Repeat a few times a day to speed up the healing process and help prevent any throat infection spreading.

You can also use the salt water solution as a mouth rinse to help heal mouth sores and kill off bacteria in your oral cavity.

Sore Throat on One Side – When to See a Doctor

Having a sore throat on just one side is not as common as having sore throat in both sides of the throat. In some cases a pain on the left or right side of the throat can become an emergency especially if it’s a result of a complication of existing illness. You should always see a doctor for a complete examination and use home remedies after you’ve consulted your doctor.

Read these related articles:

Article Sources

  1. WebMD. Peritonsillar abscess.
  2. NHS. Quinsy.
  3. WebMD. Peritonsillar abscess.
  4. WebMD. Dental abscess.
  5. MerckManuals. Gingivitis.
  6. EntNet. Nodules, polyps, and cysts.
  7. ASHA. Vocal cord nodules and polyps.
  8. MayfieldClinic. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia.
  9. Pharmacol Rev. 2012 Oct; 64(4): 939–971.
  10. MayoClinic. Sore throat.
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