A sore throat and headache can both be symptoms of several conditions. Conditions that cause headaches and a sore throat can range from mild medical issues to serious ones that require treatment.

In this article, we provide more information on eight possible causes of sore throats and headaches and their treatments. We also discuss these symptoms in relation to COVID-19.

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A sore throat and headache can be symptoms of both mild and serious medical issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people have reported a wide range of symptoms of COVID-19, which is the disease that occurs due to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The CDC also state that symptoms can appear 2–14 days after exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • cough
  • fever or chills
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • muscle or body aches
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • congestion or a runny nose
  • vomiting or nausea
  • diarrhea

Anyone who suspects that they might have COVID-19 should speak to a doctor.

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.

Meningitis is a serious condition, and a person should seek help as soon as possible.

It can cause a high fever and severe headache to occur suddenly. Some people also have a sore throat.

It a person experiences fever, headache, and a stiff neck, they should seek help immediately.

Other symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • light sensitivity
  • confusion
  • vomiting

In newborns, symptoms can include:

  • being slow or inactive
  • irritability
  • vomiting
  • feeding poorly

Learn more about bacterial meningitis.

Treatment

A doctor can treat bacterial meningitis with antibiotics, and this should happen as soon as possible.

A viral upper respiratory infection, which people usually refer to as the common cold, can cause a headache and a sore throat.

According to the CDC, a sore throat can last for 8 days, and a headache will typically last for 9–10 days.

Other symptoms can include:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • postnasal drip
  • watery eyes
  • nasal congestion

Treatment

A person with a cold can focus on trying to ease the symptoms. They can often do this by:

  • resting
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • using saline nasal spray or drops
  • breathing in steam to help ease congestion
  • using lozenges to help soothe the throat

Find more advice on how to treat the common cold here.

Infectious mononucleosis, also called mono, is another viral infection that can cause headaches and a sore throat.

Mono can include symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • rash
  • enlarged spleen
  • swollen liver

Learn more about mono.

Treatment

The CDC state that there is no specific treatment for mono. However, a person can relieve the symptoms by:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat fever or pain

Allergies occur when the immune system treats a harmless substance as an invader.

Some allergies can cause a sore throat and headaches alongside other symptoms, including:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • rash
  • fatigue
  • nausea

Read more about allergies.

Treatment

People looking to ease the symptoms of an allergy can try various medications, including:

  • Nasal corticosteroids: These help reduce inflammation and swelling in the nose.
  • Antihistamines: People can take these to calm sneezing, itching, and hives.
  • Mast cell stabilizers: These help stop the body’s mast cells from releasing histamines.
  • Decongestants: These work by reducing stuffiness in the nose.
  • Corticosteroid creams: People may find these helpful in minimizing itchiness.

Get more tips on how to treat an allergic reaction here.

The bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes (group A strep) causes strep throat.

According to the CDC, strep throat is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years.

Symptoms of strep throat can include a sore throat and headache, as well as:

  • tiny red spots on the throat
  • pain when swallowing
  • fever
  • swollen tonsils, sometimes with patches of white pus
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • hoarseness
  • conjunctivitis
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Learn more about how to recognize strep throat.

Treatment

A person can treat strep throat using antibiotics.

The CDC state that antibiotics can help by:

  • decreasing the duration of an illness
  • reducing symptoms
  • preventing the spread of the bacteria
  • preventing further complications

Pharyngitis and tonsillitis are two types of infection that cause inflammation and pain in the throat.

Pharyngitis refers to inflammation of the pharynx, or throat, while tonsillitis affects the tonsils.

Both can cause a headache and sore throat, as well as:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • stomachache
  • painful swallowing
  • redness in the throat

Treatment

If a bacterial infection is the cause, a person can take antibiotics. However, if a person has a viral infection, they can ease the symptoms by:

  • taking OTC pain relievers
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • using throat lozenges
  • gargling warm salt water

Learn more about how to treat tonsillitis at home.

Peritonsillar abscess is the most common deep infection of the head and neck. It is most prevalent among young adults.

Peritonsillar abscess commonly causes sore throat and fever. In some cases, a person may develop a headache from the condition.

Other symptoms can include:

  • earache
  • painful swallowing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • malaise
  • drooling
  • muffled voice
  • foul-smelling breath
  • trismus, also called lockjaw

Read more about peritonsillar abscess.

Treatment

A person should seek medical treatment for this condition.

A doctor may drain the abscess and put a person on antibiotic therapy. They might also prescribe a pain-relieving medication.

A surgical procedure called a tonsillectomy may be necessary to remove the abscess.

Throat cancer can develop in different locations within the throat. Where the cancer develops can affect the symptoms that a person experiences. Some people may experience a sore throat that does not go away and headaches.

Other symptoms can include:

  • constant coughing
  • painful swallowing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • ear pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • unintentional weight loss
  • a lump in the neck

Find out more about throat cancer here.

Treatment

If the cancer has not spread, and the tumor is small, treatment may include radiation therapy or surgery.

For locally advanced lesions, doctors use a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Surgery may or may not be an additional option.

The treatment options for children with a sore throat and headache will depend on their age and the cause of these symptoms.

Parents and caregivers should carefully read all instructions on OTC medications. They should provide dose sizes based on either weight or age.

They should also follow all directions that a pediatrician gives for prescription medications. The pediatrician will recommend therapies to help treat the underlying condition where possible.

In some cases, a person may not be able to avoid a sore throat and headache.

People who suffer from allergies can attempt to avoid triggers, but that may not always be possible.

Parents and caregivers can try to prevent the spread of strep throat. If an infant is sick with a sore throat, fever, and other symptoms of strep throat, it is important to take them to the doctor and keep them home from school or day care to avoid spreading the infection.

A person can reduce their risk factors for throat cancer by:

  • avoiding tobacco products
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • eating a healthful diet
  • exercising regularly

A person should talk to a doctor if:

  • fever is present
  • symptoms do not go away
  • symptoms are severe and indicate a potentially life threatening condition, such as bacterial meningitis
  • home treatments are not working

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a person with a sore throat and headache should talk to their doctor. The doctor can recommend whether the person should undergo testing for COVID-19. There is currently no recommended treatment for COVID-19, but many people can recover at home with no specific treatment.

In most cases, a sore throat and headache are likely to be the result of a cold or allergy. However, other illnesses, including COVID-19, also may present with a headache and sore throat.

For children, a sore throat and headache may be the result of strep throat, which they are more prone to than adults.

If symptoms do not clear, or at-home remedies are not working, a person should talk to a doctor as soon as possible.