Can Stress Cause a Sore Throat?

Feb 24, 2022

The aftermath of a car accident can bring a lot of different emotions- fear, guilt, relief, anxiety. Along with managing these feelings, you are likely also dealing with a lot of logistical tasks like filing police reports, speaking to insurance, and seeking treatment for car accident injuries. In the midst of all this, many people might ignore symptoms like a sore throat, but did you know it may be tied to the stress you are feeling? Emotional issues like stress and anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms, including a sore throat.

How Stress Relates to a Sore Throat

One of the body’s natural reactions to stress is to release adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These hormones trigger a variety of physical responses, such as increasing your heart rate and blood pressure in an effort to help you enact the “flight” part of the fight or flight instinct. This can manifest in symptoms like:

  1. Rapid and shallow breathing
  2. Breathing through the mouth
  3. Hyperventilation
  4. Anxious coughing
  5. Muscle tension

These behaviors often lead to other lingering symptoms, like a dry or sore throat, tightness in the throat, or even a burning sensation.

Stress hormones can also lead to certain throat issues:

  1. Muscle tension dysphonia: A coordination problem related to the muscles and breathing patterns associated with your voice. When the body recognizes stress, muscles that control the voice box tense up, which can cause hoarseness, cracks in the voice, or the need to strain the voice in order to be heard.
  2. Dysphagia: A swallowing disorder that can be exacerbated by anxiety. One of the strongest predictors of the severity of dysphagia is high anxiety.
  3. Globus sensation: The feeling that there is a lump in your throat when there is nothing there. While this is not painful, it can be frustrating. Anxiety and stress can worsen the sensation or be the trigger for it to start.
  4. Other contributing factors such as allergies, tonsillitis, the common cold, acid reflux, and GERD can be worsened by anxiety, thereby worsening the pain.

Determining the Cause of a Sore Throat

While they are linked to stress and anxiety, sore throats are also a common sign of many mild illnesses and conditions. They are rarely enough reason to seek medical attention on their own and may be ignored. However, you may worry about whether you have a condition like strep throat that is contagious or requires treatment and want to understand the source of your sore throat. One of the best indicators that anxiety is the cause is changes in the level of pain- if it ramps up during emotional stress and eases as you calm down, it is likely linked to your mood.

Other signs that your sore throat is tied to stress may include:

  1. Breathing through the mouth
  2. Hyperventilating
  3. Tensing of the muscle
  4. Anxious coughing

In these cases, the sore throat is actually the secondary symptom of anxiety. The primary symptom, like coughing, is directly caused by mental stress, while that symptom has physical effects that end in a sore throat.

If you feel calmer and continue to have a sore throat, there may be other underlying causes. Symptoms that may indicate another cause include:

  1. Swollen tonsils
  2. Nasal congestion
  3. A “wet” cough
  4. Fever
  5. Nausea or vomiting
  6. Body aches and pain
  7. Headaches
  8. Fatigue

Preventing Sore Throats During Times of Stress

When you feel anxiety beginning to set in, there are some habits you can adopt that make you less likely to end up with a sore throat. Look for certain physical reactions and use them to help guide your body away from irritating the throat.

  1. If you notice you are breathing through your mouth, try to control your breathing. Take long, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth until your breathing pattern normalizes.
  2. If your mouth feels dry, have a cup of water or some decaffeinated tea. You can also gargle with warm salt water to add hydration.
  3. If your muscles feel tight, try deep breathing exercises, stretches, meditation, or yoga to help ease your mind and calm the body.
  4. If you have an anxious cough, use a soothing cough drop or simply a spoonful of honey mixed into a glass of warm water.

It can also be helpful to manage your anxiety and stress to prevent symptoms from occurring. In high-stress moments, you can focus on breathing, take a walk, focus on favorite activities or calming music, or seek a friend’s company. If you have more long-term stress, you can make lifestyle adjustments that help reduce the impact. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding triggers like alcohol and caffeine, and improving your sleep quality have all been shown to reduce stress.

If you feel that your anxiety is interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks or enjoy your life, it is possible that you are experiencing generalized anxiety or another mental illness related to anxiety. This can be managed through a combination of the above techniques and work with a professional psychologist.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Sore throats can be a normal part of illness and allergies, or you may have a random sore throat once in a while without needing to see a doctor. Similarly, feeling occasional stress and anxiety is normal and does not mean you have a chronic issue or need to visit a healthcare provider, especially if you do not have other symptoms.

However, you should see a doctor if:

  1. You frequently feel very stressed.
  2. You think you are having anxiety or panic attacks.
  3. Anxiety prevents you from daily activities and the ability to function.
  4. You have ongoing physical symptoms like a sore throat.
  5. Your sore throat is worsening or has other symptoms associated with it

A doctor will be able to assess symptoms associated with your stress and your sore throat to determine if there are any underlying conditions that warrant further treatment. At AICA Jonesboro, we are dedicated to comprehensive and holistic care that takes all symptoms and situations into account.