There are several possible causes of red spots in the throat. These can range from common conditions that a doctor can treat easily, such as strep throat, to potentially severe conditions, such as mouth cancer.

Red spots on the throat can indicate an infection or another medical condition. Bacterial or viral infections are common causes of red spots in the throat, but they can also indicate a more severe illness.

This article looks at some potential causes of red spots on the throat, the diagnosis, treatment, and home remedies for the condition. It also looks at when to contact a doctor and the typical outlook.

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There are several potential causes of red spots on the throat. Some common causes are listed below.

Strep throat

Strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils. Bacteria called group A Streptococcus cause the infection. These bacteria are very contagious and can be transmitted between people through respiratory droplets when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes or through direct contact.

As well as small red spots in the throat, symptoms of strep throat can include:

Group A Streptococcus also causes scarlet fever. Scarlet fever occurs when the bacteria that cause strep throat also create a toxin that causes a rash. A person with scarlet fever may experience:

Learn more about strep throat.


Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are collections of lymphoid tissue in the back of the throat that are part of the immune system. Although teenagers and adults can get tonsillitis, it is more common in young children, per the National Health Service (NHS).

Red or white pus-filled spots may develop on the tonsils in severe cases.

As well as spots in the throat, tonsillitis may cause:

  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • coughing
  • headache
  • fever
  • nausea
  • earache
  • difficulty swallowing
  • bad breath
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Learn more about tonsillitis.


Two groups of viruses called enteroviruses and cocksackie viruses cause herpangina. It most commonly affects young children but can occur in newborns, teenagers, and adults.

Herpangina is highly contagious and can be transferred through respiratory droplets and fecal matter.

The virus can cause blister-like sores or ulcers in the soft palate, back of the throat, and tonsils.

Other symptoms may include:

Learn more about herpangina.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD)

HFMD is a viral infection that commonly affects infants and children under age 5 years. The same viruses can cause HFMD and herpangina, but in HFMD, the infection affects the mouth, feet, and skin rather than the mouth alone.

HFMD usually causes mild symptoms for up to 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but some cases may be more severe.

Small red sores inside the mouth are a common symptom of HFMD. The sores can blister and become painful. Other symptoms include:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • feeling generally unwell
  • drinking and eating less
  • a skin rash on the soles of feet and palms of hands, which may also develop on the legs, arms, and buttocks

Learn more about HFMD.

Oropharyngeal cancer

Oropharyngeal cancer starts in the middle of the throat and is visible when the mouth is wide open.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that the risk of mouth cancer increases with age. It may also be more common in people who smoke or chew tobacco, betel nut, or gutka, drink alcohol heavily, have human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, or are overweight or have obesity.

Oropharyngeal cancer can cause red or white patches and lumps in the throat. Other symptoms include:

  • a persistent sore throat
  • persistent hoarse voice
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, and speaking
  • a white or red patch in the mouth

Learn more about oropharyngeal cancer.

The method of diagnosis a doctor uses may depend on the appearance of the red spots in the throat and other symptoms.

A doctor may perform a rapid strep test, which involves swabbing the throat and running a quick test on the sample.

They may also perform a throat culture test, which also involves taking a swab sample from the throat. The results of a throat culture take longer to develop but may reveal infections that a rapid test cannot detect.

A doctor may be able to diagnose illnesses such as tonsillitis by examining the throat and asking questions about a person’s symptoms.

In cases of HFMD, a doctor may be able to diagnose a patient by looking at their rash, or they may collect samples from the throat or feces for lab analysis.

To diagnose mouth cancer, a doctor may take a biopsy sample from the mouth for lab analysis. They may also perform an imaging scan, such as an MRI, X-ray, or CAT scan.

A doctor usually prescribes antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, such as strep throat, scarlet fever, and bacterial tonsillitis. Antibiotics can help prevent complications of a group A Streptococcus infection, such as rheumatic heart disease.

For viral infections, such as herpangina, HFMD, or viral tonsillitis, a doctor will treat the symptoms, such as trying to reduce fever and pain with medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Treatment for mouth cancer can involve surgery to remove the cancer, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy, per the ACS.

A person may be able to reduce the symptoms associated with red spots on the throat at home. It may help to:

  • take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • gargle with warm, salty water
  • get plenty of rest
  • soothe the throat with cool drinks
  • use OTC lozenges or throat sprays

A person should contact a doctor if they or their child have red spots in the throat. Some causes of red throat spots may require treatment with antibiotics and may become worse or lead to complications without treatment.

The outlook for a person with red spots in the throat is typically good. Most conditions that cause red spots are easily treatable or recede as an infection resolves.

Oropharyngeal cancer has an overall 5-year relative survival rate of 52%, per the ACS.

Learn more about oral cancer survival rates by age.

Most causes of red spots on the throat are not serious or long lasting. A doctor may be able to treat them with antibiotics, or they will go away without treatment once an infection clears.

Antibiotics are ineffective at treating viral causes, such as herpangina. However, a person can treat the symptoms, and the illness should go away without intervention.

A person with mouth cancer may require treatment such as surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.