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Guanaria of the throat: Gonorrhea in Throat: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention

Gonorrhea in Throat: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention

If you suspect you may have been exposed to gonorrhea, you are not alone.

Gonorrhea was the second most notifiable condition reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2019 and is on the rise in the United States.

It is easily treatable and there’s nothing to be ashamed of; however, STDs are often stigmatized in our society, which can sometimes make it hard to talk about our symptoms or seek help when we suspect there is something wrong.

When many of us think about gonorrhea, we think of it as a sexually transmitted disease infecting just the genitals. However, it can infect other parts of the body as well, including our rectum, eyes, and throat.

In some cases, it can even be passed on from mother to child in childbirth.

Oral gonorrhea can be contracted through any physical activity where the mouth makes contact with an infected area.

Because so many people who test positive for it have no symptoms, it’s particularly important to maintain good sexual health by getting regular STD checkups and communicating with your partner(s) if you suspect exposure.

What is Oral Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, also known as gonococcus.

Usually contracted through unprotected sexual intercourse, you can be infected with the bacterium via anal sex or oral sex with an infected person.

If you have unprotected oral sex without a barrier method, you run the risk of getting it.

It’s important to know that gonorrhea isn’t spread through casual contact.

You can’t contract the disease through things like kissing, sharing foods, coughing, or sitting on toilet seats. It tends to be more common in people under the age of 25 years old.

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Symptoms of Gonorrhea in the Throat

Many people with gonorrhea may not exhibit any symptoms.

It tends to be more prevalent in people with penises, and they tend to exhibit symptoms more frequently than people with vaginas, who often carry it asymptomatically.

Furthermore, oral gonorrhea can be even harder to detect as most people don’t have any symptoms.

If you suspect you may have gonorrhea in the throat, you may have the following symptoms:

  • A persistent itchy or sore throat
  • Redness in the throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing

Since it’s common not to show symptoms of oral gonorrhea, be sure to check if you have any other symptoms.

Men and those with penises will experience may experience the following symptoms:

  • Frequent urination
  • A change in discharge: white, yellow, beige, or slightly green pus-like discharge (or drip) from the penis 
  • Swelling or redness at the opening of the penis
  • Testicular pain
  • Testicular swelling
  • Persistent sore throat

Common symptoms in women and people with vaginas include:

  • Watery, creamy, or slightly green discharge from the vagina 
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • More frequent urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Heavier periods or bleeding between periods
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Sharp pain in the lower abdomen
  • Fever

Typically, symptoms of gonorrhea will appear within 2-14 days after exposure and tend to be milder in people with vaginas.

This can make it difficult to determine if you are infected as the disease can easily be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. 

If you notice any changes in your genital area, it is advised you get checked out by a healthcare provider. More than likely, they will test you for other STDs as it is common to test positive for chlamydia if you also have gonorrhea. 

How does Oral Gonorrhea Spread?

Oral gonorrhea is spread through unprotected oral sex with an infected person.

Close contact with infected genitals through the following circumstances can lead to oral gonorrhea:

  • Giving oral sex to a partner with an infected penis 
  • Giving oral sex to a partner with an infected vagina or urinary tract 
  • Receiving oral sex on the penis from a partner with oral gonorrhea 
  • Receiving oral sex on the vagina from a partner with oral gonorrhea in the throat could transfer the disease to the vagina or urinary tract
  • Giving oral sex to a partner with an infected rectum
  • Receiving oral sex on the anus from a partner with oral gonorrhea could transfer the disease to the rectum

How is Oral Gonorrhea Treated?

Fortunately, the treatment options for oral gonorrhea are fairly straightforward.

Your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics to clear up the infection, usually ceftriaxone administered as an injection accompanied with oral azithromycin (Zithromax).

This is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for the treatment of uncomplicated gonorrhea as new strains of drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae have emerged. 

Be sure to discuss your medical history with your doctor.

Inform them if you have any known allergic reactions to cephalosporin antibiotics, such as ceftriaxone.

Your doctor may prescribe you oral gemifloxacin, or injectable gentamicin and oral azithromycin.

Oral Gonorrhea vs. Strep Throat 

Since oral gonorrhea is already hard to detect, the only way to know for sure if you have it is to visit a doctor and have them do a throat swab.

Both oral gonorrhea and strep throat can present as a persistent sore throat.

However, redness often accompanies your sore throat with oral gonorrhea and white patches often appear in the throat with strep throat.  

Other symptoms that may indicate you have strep throat include:

  • A sudden fever, often 101˚F or higher
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Let your healthcare provider know all symptoms you are experiencing and they will be able to do a physical examination and run some tests to determine what is wrong.

Can Mouthwash Treat Oral Gonorrhea? 

While there is speculation that mouthwash can treat oral gonorrhea, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim fully.

Over-the-counter mouthwashes such as Listerine can kill harmful bacteria in the mouth, but ultimately it is not an alternative treatment option for oral gonorrhea.

You may wish to gargle with it to reduce the prevalence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, but you should not use it as an alternative treatment method to antibiotics.

What Happens if Oral Gonorrhea Goes Untreated?

If you have oral gonorrhea and don’t receive proper treatment, it can spread through your bloodstream to other parts of your body and create more complications.

Untreated gonorrhea can lead to systemic gonococcal infection, also known as disseminated gonococcal infection. You may then develop joint pain, swelling, and skin sores.

In severe cases, it can also infect the heart.

Getting regular checkups from your healthcare provider or at an STD clinic can ensure that gonorrhea doesn’t go undetected in your body and is cured with antibiotics.

Preventing Oral Gonorrhea

Since gonorrhea is spread through sexual fluids like semen (cum), pre-cum, and vaginal fluids, abstinence from sexual contact is the best way to prevent it.

However, that’s not a realistic prevention method for a lot of us.

Practicing safe sex with a barrier method such as condoms and dental dams can minimize your risk of contracting gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Additionally, you should get tested regularly if you have a new sex partner or your partner has a new sex partner. This will lower your chances of getting an STD as well as spreading it.

Telling Your Partner(s)

The first thing you should do if you suspect you have gonorrhea is to abstain from any sexual contact until you get proper treatment.

Secondly, you should let your partner(s) know what signs and symptoms you are experiencing. That way they can arrange to get tested.

If you are treated for gonorrhea and your partner doesn’t get treated, you run the risk of contracting it from them again so it is important to both get tested.

As a general rule, it’s important to get regular STD checkups.

That way if you do have an infection and are showing no symptoms, it can be detected and treated immediately. 

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When to See a Doctor 

You should visit a doctor or STD testing facility if you have any of the symptoms listed above or have recently had unprotected sex with a partner of unknown STD status.

Changes including unusual discharge, burning sensations, or pain while having sex could indicate an STD. A persistent sore throat accompanied by redness can also suggest you have oral gonorrhea.

If left untreated, gonorrhea can spread throughout the body and cause greater health complications including:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Infertility
  • Eepididymitis
  • Higher risk of HIV

Getting tested for gonorrhea is simple and painless and the treatment for most infected persons is straightforward. Take care of your health and get regular STD checkups for you and your partner(s).

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes.

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

How common is gonorrhea in the throat?

Oral gonorrhea tends to be more prevalent in people under the age of 25 years old, infecting both people with vaginas and people with penises. It is often transmitted through oral sex and manifests as a persistent sore throat. Get regular STD checkups and practice safe sex to avoid contracting or spreading the disease.

How likely is oral gonorrhea to recur?

Once you have had oral gonorrhea, you can still get it again. Your antibiotic treatment will only cure the gonorrhea you have today but cannot prevent you from contracting the disease again in the future.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions,
and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

  • Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea. (2022).

  • Gonococcal Infections Among Adolescents and Adults. (2021).

  • Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet. (2022).

  • STD Risk and Oral Sex – CDC Fact Sheet. (2021).

  • National Overview – Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2019. (2019)

Symptoms, Transmission, Treatment, Prevention, More

You can get gonorrhea in your throat through oral sex or kissing. It is common to have no symptoms, but you may notice a red or sore throat, a fever, and swollen lymph nodes in your neck. You may also get more typical gonorrhea symptoms.

We don’t know exactly how common oral gonorrhea is in the general population.

There have been a number of studies published on oral gonorrhea, but most focus on specific groups, such as heterosexual women and men who have sex with men.

What we do know is that more than 85 percent of sexually active adults have had oral sex, and anyone who has unprotected oral sex is at risk.

Experts also believe that undetected oral gonorrhea is partly to blame for the increase in antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. Pharyngeal gonorrhea is often asymptomatic and may elude antibiotics even with appropriate treatment

Oral gonorrhea rarely causes symptoms and is often hard to detect. This can result in delayed treatment, which increases the risk of transmitting the infection to others.

Oral gonorrhea can be spread through oral sex performed on the genitals or anus of someone who has gonorrhea.

It can also likely be transmitted through kissing, but more studies are underway to substantiate this claim.

Most of the time, oral gonorrhea doesn’t cause any symptoms.

If you develop symptoms, they can be hard to distinguish from common symptoms of other throat infections.

Symptoms may include:

  • sore throat
  • redness in the throat
  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Sometimes, a person with oral gonorrhea can also develop a gonorrhea infection in another part of the body, such as the cervix or urethra.

If this is the case, you may have other symptoms of gonorrhea, such as:

  • unusual vaginal or penile discharge
  • pain or burning when urinating
  • pain during intercourse
  • swollen testicles
  • swollen lymph nodes in the groin

Your symptoms alone can’t distinguish between oral gonorrhea and another throat condition, such as sore or strep throat.

The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor or other healthcare professional for a throat swab and ask specifically to be tested for gonorrhea.

Like strep throat, oral gonorrhea may cause a sore throat with redness, but strep throat often also causes white patches in the throat.

Other symptoms of strep throat include:

  • a sudden fever, often 101°F (38°C) or higher
  • headache
  • chills
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • pain
  • fatigue
  • rash
  • red spots on the back of the throat

Yes. Gonorrhea must be treated with prescription antibiotics to fully clear the infection and prevent transmission.

Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause a number of serious complications.

If you suspect that you’ve been exposed, see a doctor or other healthcare professional for testing. If you don’t already have a doctor, our Healthline FindCare tool can help you connect to physicians in your area.

The healthcare professional will take a swab of your throat to check for the bacteria that causes the infection.

If you’ve received a diagnosis or have been with someone who has, you should inform all recent sexual partners so they can be tested.

This includes anyone you’ve had sexual contact with in the 2 months before your symptoms started or your diagnosis.

Talking with your current or previous partners can be uncomfortable, but it needs to be done to avoid the risk of serious complications, transmitting the infection, and developing the infection again.

Being prepared with information about gonorrhea, its testing, and treatment can help you answer your partner’s questions.

If you’re worried about your partner’s reaction, consider making an appointment to see a healthcare professional together.

Here are some things you can say to get the conversation started:

  • “I got some test results today, and I think we should talk about them.”
  • “My doctor just told me that I have something. There’s a chance you have it, too.”
  • “I just found out that someone I was with a while back has gonorrhea. We should both get tested to be safe.”

In some states where it is legally permitted, clinicians will offer expedited partner therapy as it helps prevent re-infection if both partners are treated simultaneously.

If you prefer to remain anonymous

If you’re worried about talking with your current or previous partners, ask your doctor about contact tracing.

With contact tracing, your local health department will notify anyone who might have been exposed. It can be anonymous, so your sexual partner(s) don’t have to be told who referred them.

Mouthwash has long been believed to be able to cure gonorrhea. Until fairly recently, there was no scientific evidence to back the claim.

Data collected from a 2016 randomized controlled trial and an in vitro study found that the mouthwash Listerine significantly reduced the amount of N. gonorrhoeae (the bacteria that causes gonorrhea) on the pharyngeal (throat) surface.

While this is certainly promising, more research is needed to assess this claim. A larger trial is currently underway.

Antibiotics are the only treatment that’s proven to be effective.

If left untreated, oral gonorrhea can spread through your bloodstream to other parts of your body.

This can rarely lead to systemic gonococcal infection, also known as disseminated gonococcal infection.

Systemic gonococcal infection is a serious condition that can cause joint pain and swelling and skin sores. It can also cause an infection in the heart. However, this is very rare.

Gonorrhea of the genitals, rectum, and urinary tract can cause other serious complications when left untreated.

Possible complications include:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • pregnancy complications
  • infertility
  • epididymitis
  • higher risk of contracting HIV

With proper treatment, gonorrhea is curable. However, new strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea can be more difficult to treat.

The CDC recommends that anyone treated for oral gonorrhea return to their healthcare professional 7 to 14 days after treatment to make sure the infection is gone.

We don’t know how likely recurrence is in oral gonorrhea, specifically.

We do know that recurrence for other types of gonorrhea is high, affecting anywhere from 3.6 percent to 11 percent of people previously treated.

Retesting is recommended 3 to 6 months after treatment, even if you and your partner(s) have successfully completed treatment and are symptom-free.