Sore throat and hoarseness rank, besides pain and nausea, among the most frequent subjective complaints after tracheal intubation for general anaesthesia. Our intention was to determine the incidence of postoperative sore throat from a large sample of patients and thus to identify the most important associated factors. We prospectively followed up 809 adult patients who underwent elective surgical interventions and examined their history, the applied anaesthetic techniques, perioperative course and the occurrence, intensity and duration of postoperative throat complaints. The assignment and professional experience of the involved intubators were also assessed. The influence of a multitude of variables on postoperative throat complaints was statistically analysed. Postoperative sore throat was present in 40% overall being significantly higher in female than in male (44% vs. 33%; P = 0.001). The mean pain intensity in the affected patients (n = 323) was 28+/-12 mm on a visual analogue scale where 0 = no pain and 100 = extreme pain. The average duration was 16+/-11 h. Main factors associated with throat complaints were female sex; history of smoking or lung disease, duration of anaesthesia, postoperative nausea, bloodstain on the endotracheal tube and natural teeth. We could find no influence on the occurrence or intensity of throat complaints by the professional assignment or the length of professional experience of the personnel involved. Postoperative throat complaints frequently arise after tracheal intubation for general anaesthesia in the first 2 postoperative days, but they are of limited intensity and duration.