A sore throat and swollen glands, or lymph nodes, can be symptoms of a bacterial infection, like strep throat, a viral infection, or lymphoma. A sore throat and swollen glands often occur together.

The lymph glands, or lymph nodes, are a part of the body’s immune system. They collect and filter fluid to remove infection from the body.

Lymph glands, especially those in the throat, may swell in response to infection or another illness. Infections that cause swollen glands may also cause a sore throat, among other symptoms.

In this article, we look at some causes of both a sore throat and swollen glands, along with treatments and remedies, and when to see a doctor.

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Strep throat is one possible cause of a sore throat and swollen glands.

Strep throat is a painful infection with Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes) bacteria. Doctors sometimes refer to this type of bacteria as “group A strep.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strep throat is responsible for 20–30% of sore throats in children and 5–15% of these cases in adults.

In addition to a sore throat and swollen glands, a person with strep throat may have:

  • a fever
  • pain with swallowing
  • visible pus on the tonsils

A cold and the flu are among the most common viral infections.

The viruses responsible can cause swollen glands and a sore throat, among a range of other symptoms, before the body successfully fights off the infection.

The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that sits behind the tongue at the back of the throat.

Epiglottitis is a serious medical condition that causes the epiglottis to swell, which can affect the ability to breathe. Children are most likely to experience this condition.

The typical cause of epiglottitis was once the Haemophilus influenzae type b strain of bacteria. This can also cause other serious infections, such as pneumonia and meningitis. However, vaccinations for the strain have become routine.

Now, the most likely cause of epiglottitis is either other Haemophilus influenzae strains, bacteria in the Streptococcus genus, or Staphylococcus aureus.

Symptoms of epiglottitis include:

  • a very sore throat
  • breathing better when sitting up or leaning slightly forward
  • a high-pitched sound when breathing
  • a fever
  • anxiousness
  • restlessness
  • drooling

Epiglottitis is a potentially life threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Treatments often include administering antibiotics and supportive treatments to help the person breathe more easily.

Mononucleosis usually results from infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. It typically develops over 4–6 weeks, and the symptoms include:

  • body aches
  • extreme fatigue
  • a fever
  • a rash
  • a sore throat
  • swollen lymph nodes

At present, there is no specific treatment for mononucleosis. However, a doctor may recommend supportive treatments, such as:

  • resting
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • taking over-the-counter pain relief medication
  • not participating in contact sports

A peritonsillar abscess is an infection of the head and neck, and it can cause a sore throat and swollen lymph glands.

Symptoms include:

  • drooling
  • fatigue
  • a muffled voice
  • a fever
  • problems swallowing
  • a severe sore throat
  • trouble opening the mouth

If the person does not receive effective treatment, a peritonsillar abscess can cause breathing difficulties. The infection can also travel to nearby areas, such as deeper tissues within the neck.

Doctors usually treat peritonsillar abscesses with antibiotics. A person may have to stay in the hospital to receive faster-acting intravenous antibiotics.

Also, the doctor may have to drain the abscess with a thin needle to help the person breathe better.

Suppurative thyroiditis is a rare cause of a sore throat and swollen lymph glands. The condition involves an infection of the thyroid gland.

The most common symptoms include:

  • a fever
  • neck pain that may radiate to the ears
  • a sudden onset of throat pain
  • swelling in one or both sides of the thyroid, which is in the lower part of the neck
  • warmth near the front of the neck

Suppurative thyroiditis can become life threatening if a doctor does not diagnose and treat it early enough.

Rarely, swollen lymph glands and a sore throat are symptoms of a serious health issue, such as lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the lymph nodes. There are various types, including Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Other symptoms of lymphoma include:

  • feeling tired often
  • a fever
  • chest pain
  • problems breathing
  • unintentional weight loss

If a person is concerned that they may have this condition, they should talk to a doctor.

Learn more about the causes of swollen lymph glands here.

Swollen lymph glands and a sore throat often result from bacterial infection, so the treatment usually involves antibiotics. If the cause is a viral infection, it will not respond to antibiotics.

Supportive care for these symptoms may also include:

  • drinking clear fluids regularly to prevent dehydration
  • getting plenty of rest
  • taking pain relief medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

If the symptoms do not improve in 3–5 days after trying these treatments, see a doctor.

A child or adult should receive medical attention if they have:

  • a fever higher than 100.4°F
  • breathing problems
  • problems swallowing
  • severe throat pain

Any of these symptoms can indicate a more severe infection or disease that requires treatment.

A sore throat and swollen lymph glands are uncomfortable symptoms that often result from an underlying bacterial infection.

Sometimes they stem from a serious health issue, such as epiglottitis. If a person experiences severe throat pain or discomfort, as well as problems breathing or swallowing, they should receive immediate medical attention.