When only one side of your throat is sore

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 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.

Tonsil stones

Leighanne Dorton, MD

Debris such as mucus, dead cells, and even skin can get stuck in the crevices of your tonsils. This buildup is called tonsil stones, CEENTA ENT doctor Leighanne Dorton, MD, said. 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.

An abscess

An abscess is an infection that creates an isolated collection of pus in your body. 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.

Swollen lymph nodes

When you are sick, your lymph nodes help trap germs so the infection doesn’t spread. When they swell, they 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.

Postnasal drip

If you have a cold or other congestion, and your nose is runny, fluid may drain down the back of your throat. Constant drainage could irritate your throat, particularly one side.

Acid reflux

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. So, someone with acid reflux who sleeps on one side may find the acid affecting one side of their throat.

An injury

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.

Vocal cord lesions

If you misuse your voice or use it too much, you can injure it. This can cause a lesion to form on one side of the throat.


All 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. Dr. Dorton practices in our Salisbury office. To make an appointment with her or any of CEENTA’s ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.