Throat Ulcers: Common Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Sores in the throat, esophagus, or voice box are known as throat ulcers. It appears round with a whitish center and a reddish outer ring.

What is a throat ulcer?

An infection or injury can cause these sores, as well as a bacterial or fungal infection, illnesses, or disorders that promote throat inflammation and irritation. Throat ulcers can cause redness and swelling, making it difficult to eat and speak.

This Throat Cleaner throat diseases blog post explores the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options for throat ulcers. We will also provide guidelines on when to seek medical attention. If you have interest in more throat disease topics like voice hoarseness or most common throat disorders – we have those articles for you too!

Short Summary

Throat ulcers are caused by infections, certain inflammatory disorders, throat cancer, cancer treatment, acid reflux/GERD, vocal cord irritation, corrosive agents, and more.

Treatment depends on the underlying medical condition.

Home remedies to relieve throat ulcer pain include warm salt water gargles, using a throat cleaner, drinking cold beverages, avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux, such as spicy foods, avoiding alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking.

Causes of Throat Ulcers

The factors that cause throat ulcers depend on whether they are located in the throat, the esophagus, or the vocal cords.

Throat Ulcers

Factors that promote throat ulcers include:

  • Viral infections, such as herpes simplex virus.
  • Fungal infections, like oral thrush.
  • Oral yeast infections
  • Bacterial infections, like Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the same bacterium that causes stomach ulcers
  • Specific inflammatory disorders, like Behçet syndrome, cause inflammation in your blood vessels, leading to skin rashes and lesions throughout your body, including painful throat sores.
  • Throat cancers, including laryngeal cancer and oropharyngeal cancers (Cancer of the voice box and cancer of the throat directly behind the mouth, respectively).
  • Chemotherapy and radiation used to treat cancer

Esophageal Ulcers

Factors and conditions that promote esophageal ulcers include:

  • Substances that irritate the esophagus, such as specific medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a chronic condition characterized by the regular backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This acid burns the esophageal tissue, eventually causing open sores.
  • Allergies, which can cause inflammation of the esophageal lining
  • Oral yeast infection, like oral thrush
  • An esophageal infection, which can be caused by various viruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Frequent and extreme vomiting, which burns the esophagus and promotes esophageal ulcer promotion
  • Viral infection, such as herpes simplex viral illness (HSV)
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Swallowing abrasive chemicals, like bleach or ammonia
  • Chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments
  • Consuming too many beverages that contain caffeine
  • Eating too many acidic foods, such as tomatoes

An image of a woman with open mouth shouting.

Vocal Cord (Larynx) Ulcers

Factors that promote ulcers or granulomas include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Excessive shouting
  • Vocal cord irritation from excessive vocal stress, such as singing or talking too much or intensely without regular breaks.
  • Numerous infections of the upper respiratory tract
  • Laryngeal damage from intubation, a procedure of inserting a tube into the trachea to help you breathe
  • Laryngeal cancer

Additional Symptoms

If you’re dealing with throat ulcers, the symptoms you experience can depend on what’s causing them. Keep an eye out for signs like…

  • Acid reflux or stomach acid and stomach contents rising back up into your esophagus and mouth
  • The feeling of a lump being lodged in your throat
  • Mouth sores
  • Chest pain
  • Heartburn
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Chronic coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Choking
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Neck lump
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • mouth or throat pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Earache
  • Vocal changes
  • Altered sense of taste or smell

An image of a woman with acid reflux holding her chest in pain.

Treatment Options for Throat Ulcers

Treatment depends on the cause of the throat ulcers. Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following:

Potential Treatment for Throat Ulcers

  • Bacterial infections: Antibiotics.
  • Fungal infections: Antifungal medications
  • Flu, herpes, and other viral infections: Antiviral medications
  • Pain: Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Potential Treatment for Esophageal Ulcers

The primary treatment is to reduce stomach acid production or neutralize stomach acid. The doctor may prescribe over-the-counter antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or H2 receptor blockers.

Other treatments may include:

  • Antivirals, antifungals, or antibiotics to treat infection
  • Medications to speed stomach emptying
  • Glucocorticoid therapy to treat inflammation or autoimmune conditions that affect the esophagus
  • Surgery, if necessary

Potential Treatment for Vocal Cord Ulcers

  • Taking vocal naps, where you cease talking for a prescribed time
  • Treating excessive and chronic acid reflux (GERD), which likely involves using some of the treatment options described above
  • Vocal therapy
  • Surgery if all other treatments fail

An image of a woman gargling with warm salt water at the kitchen sink.

Natural Ways to Relieve Throat Ulcer Pain

Below are a few tried-and-true home remedies to relieve discomfort of throat pain from ulcers:

  • Avoid eating spicy or acidic foods, which can severely irritate the ulcers.
  • Steer clear of foods that trigger acid reflux, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, juices, chocolate, and mint.
  • Gargle with warm salt water or warm baking soda water
  • Don’t eat rough and hard foods
  • Drink adequate fluids, preferably cold fluids, throughout the day
  • Avoid throat-irritating medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
  • Stop smoking, which will help prevent further irritation
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • These methods should help relieve the pain from mouth and throat sores.

Ways to Prevent Throat Ulcers

Although throat sores cannot always be prevented, making certain lifestyle choices can reduce the likelihood of getting them.

An image of a person washing their hands with soapy water.

  • Practice good hygiene. Maintain good hygiene by washing your hands often throughout the day, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Avoid contact with sick people and keep your vaccinations up to date. Good hygiene can help you avoid contracting viral or bacterial infections that can lead to mouth and throat ulcers.
  • Check your medications. Ask your doctor if any of your medications can lead to throat ulcers. If yes, inquire about adjusting the dose, method of intake, or switching to a different drug.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk of throat cancer.
  • Avoid things that trigger acid reflux. Maintaining a healthy weight is a helpful way to minimize acid reflux and prevent the onset of GERD. Excess weight can exert pressure on your stomach and force acid into your esophagus. Consuming several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones is recommended to avoid acid reflux. Foods that trigger acid reflux, such as spicy, acidic, fatty, and fried, should be avoided. When sleeping, elevate the head of your bed to keep acid down in your stomach.

When to See a Doctor

See a doctor if you experience symptoms of a throat ulcer, as these symptoms may be similar to those of other, more severe conditions, and an accurate diagnosis is crucial.

Symptoms that suggest a visit to the doctor include:

  • Throat sores that persist for more than a few days
  • Heartburn
  • Painful swallowing
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Throat pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers

In some cases, a throat ulcer may indicate a serious medical condition. Seek immediate medical attention if experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Vomiting blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • High fever


Throat ulcers can develop in the throat, esophagus, or voice box and can cause discomfort and pain. Common symptoms include a sore throat, difficulty or pain when swallowing, and changes in taste or smell.

Throat ulcers have various causes, the most common being infectious pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Other causes may include allergies, GERD, or taking certain medications.

Treatment for throat ulcers is essential, and the prognosis is generally positive if the underlying cause is identified and addressed. If OTC medications fail to relieve severe or persistent symptoms, individuals should seek medical assistance from their doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a throat ulcer last?

Throat ulcers can persist for several weeks or months and may recur despite treatment. They typically manifest as white spots on the tonsils, which gradually worsen, eventually becoming pus-filled sores with a grayish appearance. After a while, these sores may discharge pus, resulting in an unpleasant taste in the mouth and bad breath.

How do you get rid of throat ulcers fast?

One popular remedy for throat and mouth sores is a saltwater rinse that effectively eliminates bacteria from the affected area. Additionally, a baking soda rinse can also alleviate the discomfort. To make this rinse, mix one teaspoon of baking soda with half a cup of warm water, gargle, and spit it out into the sink, ensuring the solution reaches the sore.

What do throat ulcers indicate?

Ulcers in the throat can occur as a result of injury or infection. They may also develop due to underlying infections or diseases that cause inflammation and irritation in the throat. The appropriate treatment for a throat ulcer involves identifying and addressing the underlying cause.

Why do I keep getting canker sores in my throat?

When you swallow, your tonsils come in contact with highly acidic foods or allergens, which can cause canker sores in your oral cavity.

What do throat sores look like?

Throat sores may look like white-filled bumps in the back of your throat. You may also notice reddened and swollen tonsils, indicating bacterial or viral infections. Some of the most common throat infections include strep throat, oral thrush, and mononucleosis.

Can a virus cause throat sores?

Yes. There are several causes of throat sores, including viruses, such as those responsible for colds or the flu.