White Spots On Back Of Throat

If you do have a positive strep test, your doctor will give you oral antibiotics. You’ll probably feel better in a day or two, but don’t stop taking the medication — finish the whole course, which is usually 10 days. If you stop too soon, some of the bacteria could survive and get you sick again. You’ll still be contagious up to 24 hours after you start antibiotics, so wash your hands often to protect people around you. And throw away your toothbrush.

What causes bumps in the back of the throat?

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Bumps in the back of the throat may look swollen and rough. Some people call this symptom cobblestone throat due to its appearance.

Most people with a cobblestone throat have pharyngitis, which causes the throat to feel swollen, painful, and irritated. Several different conditions can cause pharyngitis, but it is most commonly due to a viral or bacterial infection, such as the flu or common cold.

In this article, read more about the causes of bumps in the back of the throat, as well as home remedies and when to see a doctor.

bumps in the back of the throat caused by Pharyngitis. Image credit: Dake, 2006

When the body fights an infection or irritant, the lymph nodes and lymph tissue fill with fluid and become swollen.

Swollen lymph glands can cause the cells under the skin to swell and look bumpy, which doctors call pharyngitis.

Viral infections cause 60–90% of pharyngitis cases. Other viruses, such as chickenpox, herpes, croup, and mono, sometimes cause swelling and a cobblestone throat.

Bacterial infections may also cause bumps at the back of the throat. Bacterial infections are more common in winter and early spring.

Children and teenagers may have a higher risk of viral and bacterial throat infections, including those that cause bumps at the back of the throat.

Sometimes, pharyngitis can be a chronic problem that lasts for weeks or months, causing the cobblestone appearance to linger for a long time.

When pharyngitis is chronic, it is usually because something continuously irritates the throat, rather than because a person has an infection. Acid reflux and allergies are possible culprits.

People with swelling or lumps at the back of the throat might worry that they have cancer. Cancer does not typically cause bumps at the back of the throat. However, it is important to talk to a doctor about any growth or swelling that does not go away.

In addition to seeing bumps at the back of the throat, a person may have swelling at the back of the mouth or throat, often right behind the tonsils.

Some other symptoms that a person might experience include:

  • throat pain
  • hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • nasal congestion
  • fever or other symptoms of the flu

A doctor can usually diagnose the cause of the bumps by looking at the throat. Some other tests that may aid diagnosis include:

  • a blood test for Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mono
  • a throat culture to test for Streptococcus bacteria, which cause strep throat
  • a throat culture to test for less common viruses, such as chlamydia

A doctor may also ask questions about how long the throat has been sore and whether the person has a history of allergies or acid reflux.

Share on Pinterest A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection.
Image credit: Assianir, 2012

Most infections that cause bumps in the back of the throat are viral and will go away without treatment. The common cold and flu usually take about a week to go away. Some infections, such as mono, take much longer — anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, but many people with a cobblestone throat do not have a bacterial infection. Taking too many antibiotics increases antibiotic resistance, making it less likely that these medications will work in people who really need them.

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A 2016 study of 2,000 people seeking treatment for a sore throat found that just 160 (8%) needed antibiotics.

Many home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of a sore throat and reduce the swelling and bumps. These remedies include:

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers. Some research suggests that ibuprofen offers more relief than acetaminophen.
  • Sucking on a throat lozenge or hard candy.
  • Gargling with warm salt water.
  • Trying a throat numbing spray. This spray may temporarily relieve burning throat pain.
  • Using a humidifier. Some people find that humidifiers help with nighttime coughing because they help combat dryness.
  • Consuming honey to reduce coughing and throat soreness. In a 2012 study, children who received doses of honey had more significant improvements in sleep quality and decreases in coughing than those who used a placebo.

Some people use herbal remedies to help with symptoms or to speed healing. The authors of a 2012 Cochrane review found limited evidence to suggest that some Chinese herbal mixtures may help with throat pain.

However, the evidence was of poor quality, so they do not recommend any specific Chinese herbal remedies for treating throat pain.

Slideshow: Anatomy of a Sore Throat

Common Sore Throat or Something Else?

We all know that raw, scratchy feeling in the back of the throat. It could just be dry winter air, seasonal allergies, or a plain old cold. But it also could be a bacterial condition, like strep, or a viral infection or something else. Only your health care provider can tell for sure. But you can look for a few signs on your own.

Take a Good Look

Take a Good Look


Grab a flashlight, look in the mirror, and say, “Ahhh.” You could find some important clues. You might see white dots or patches in the back of your throat. Your tonsils — the bumps on either side at the back of your throat — might be red and swollen, too. These could be signs of bacterial infection like strep throat or oral thrush, or a viral infection like oral herpes or mononucleosis. They also might be something else, like tonsil stones, which are painful calcium deposits on your throat.

Do You Have Cold Symptoms?

Do You Have Cold Symptoms?


If you have a cough and drippy nose along with your sore throat, that could be good news. You may feel crummy, but you’re less likely to have a serious infection. You probably just have a common cold virus and post-nasal drip.

Do You Have a Fever?

Do You Have a Fever?


Colds can cause a fever, but it’s usually just a mild one. If you have a sore throat and a fever over 101 F, it’s more likely to be a throat infection like strep than a simple cold. But these don’t always raise your temperature — so watch for other symptoms.

Are Your Lymph Nodes Swollen?

Are Your Lymph Nodes Swollen?


The most common reason is infection — viral or bacterial. Lymph nodes trap and destroy germs, and they can swell up when they start to fight an infection. You might feel them under your jaw or on either side of your neck. But it doesn’t always mean anything serious. Even the common cold can cause swollen lymph nodes.

How Much Does It Hurt?

How Much Does It Hurt?


When a cold causes your sore throat, it can be plenty painful, but it usually goes away after a couple of days. Bacterial infections, like strep throat, tend to cause more severe pain that doesn’t get better. With strep, it may hurt so much that you can barely swallow. Sometimes, it can cause nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, or stomach pain as well.

Is There a Rash?

Is There a Rash?


A rash on your neck and chest that sometimes spreads to the rest of your body can be a sign of a group of bacterial infections called streptococcal infections. The most minor of these is strep throat, but they also include more serious ones, like scarlet fever, bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and toxic shock syndrome. They all need to be treated by a doctor — usually with antibiotics — as soon as possible.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial Infections


They may feel the same, but a common sore throat and bacterial infections are very different. Most sore throats are caused by viruses, like the cold virus. No medication will cure a cold virus — you have to let your body heal on its own. But antibiotics can fight a bacterial infection, such as strep, and stop it from spreading.

Colds & Antibiotics: Just Say No

Colds & Antibiotics: Just Say No


If you have a sore throat from a cold, antibiotics won’t help at all. They only help against bacteria not viruses. Taking antibiotics when you don’t really need them has a risk, too. Too much exposure to antibiotics can turn regular bacteria into “super bugs” that don’t respond to treatment.

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Rapid Strep Test

Rapid Strep Test


To figure out if strep — the most common bacterial throat infection — is causing your sore throat, your doctor may use a rapid strep test. Results are ready in 5 to 10 minutes, but the test doesn’t pick up all cases of strep. If yours is negative, your doctor may send a throat culture to the lab to be sure. That’s more thorough, but you won’t get the results for a few days.

Antibiotics for Strep

Antibiotics for Strep


If you do have a positive strep test, your doctor will give you oral antibiotics. You’ll probably feel better in a day or two, but don’t stop taking the medication — finish the whole course, which is usually 10 days. If you stop too soon, some of the bacteria could survive and get you sick again. You’ll still be contagious up to 24 hours after you start antibiotics, so wash your hands often to protect people around you. And throw away your toothbrush.

Home Care for Sore Throats

Home Care for Sore Throats


No matter the reason for your sore throat, simple home remedies can make you feel better. One thing that might work is a saltwater gargle. Just mix half a teaspoon of salt into a glass of water, then gargle, and spit it out. It can keep your throat moist, help with swelling, and ease that raw, scratchy feeling.

Humidifier or Vaporizer

Humidifier or Vaporizer


Steam from a humidifier or vaporizer can keep your scratchy throat moist and cut down on pain. You can also lean over a sink with hot running water. Drape a towel over your head to trap the steam, and breathe deeply. Try this for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day.

Warm Compress

Warm Compress


Try a warm water bottle or heating pad against the outside of your throat. Or wet a towel with hot water to make your own warm compress. It can help soothe tender lymph nodes in your neck.

Soothing Foods

Soothing Foods


If you need an excuse to eat ice cream, a sore throat is a great one. The cold has a numbing effect, and the creamy texture makes it easy to swallow. Other soothing foods include milkshakes, gelatin, and hot soup. If your sore throat is especially painful, stay away from crunchy or spicy foods.




If you have a fever and don’t drink enough fluids — because it hurts to swallow — it can make you dehydrated. Choose drinks that are easy on your throat: Water and warm tea are good choices. Stay away from citrus drinks, though, because they may sting your sore throat.

Pain Relievers

Pain Relievers


Over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help dull the pain of a sore throat. But be careful if you’re taking something for a cold or the flu — some of those medications already include a painkiller. You don’t want to take a double dose.

Sore Throat Sprays and Lozenges

Sore Throat Sprays and Lozenges


You can soothe a painful sore throat with a numbing spray or lozenge. (But don’t give lozenges to small children.) Carry a travel-size throat spray in your purse or briefcase for relief on the go. Sucking on ice chips can also bring some relief.




If you have a cold — and fluid draining from your nose irritates your throat — you could try a decongestant nasal spray or oral decongestant. They help dry up postnasal drip and give your throat some relief. Just follow the directions and don’t take them longer than recommended. If you use any other regular medications — or have high blood pressure or heart problems — check with your doctor first.

Lingering Sore Throat

Lingering Sore Throat


If it lasts longer than a week or gets worse, check with your doctor, even if you had a negative strep test. A throat swab may miss bacteria, so you may need another one. A sore throat that doesn’t go away could also be a sign of acid reflux, mononucleosis, or another condition.

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American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery: “Sore Throats.”

Bradley University: “A ‘superbug’ approach to antibiotics.”

CDC: “Sore Throat,” “Symptom Relief.”

Cleveland Clinic: ““Group A Streptococcal Infections.”

HealthyChildren.org: “When a Sore Throat is a More Serious Infection.”

Mayo Clinic: “Swollen lymph nodes.”

National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health: “Eating Problems and Ways to Manage Them.”

National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health: “Strep Throat.”

New Health Advisor: “White Spots on Throat”

Rutgers Health Services: “Cold & Flu.”

University of Michigan: “Infectious Mononucleosis.”

Wisconsin Department of Health Services: “Streptococcal Pharyngitis.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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