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Pharyngitis, or sore throat, is discomfort, pain, or scratchiness in the throat. It often makes it painful to swallow.
Pharyngitis - bacterial; Sore throat
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Pharyngitis is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the pharynx, which is in the back of the throat, between the tonsils and the voicebox (larynx).
Most sore throats are cauesd by a viral infection, such as the cold or flu. Some viruses can cause specific types of sore throat, such as coxsackie infection or mononucleosis.
Bacteria that can cause pharyngitis include Group A streptococcus, which leads to strep throat in some cases.
Other, less-common bacteria that cause sore throats include corynebacterium, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
Most cases of pharyngitis occur during the colder months. The illness often spreads among family members.
The main symptom is a sore throat.
Other symptoms may include:
Signs and tests
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and look at your throat.
A rapid test or throat culture to test for strep throat may be done. Other laboratory tests may be done depending on the suspected cause.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not help. Using them to treat viral infections helps strengthen bacteria and make them resistant to antibiotics.
Sore throats should only be treated with antibiotics if a strep test is positive. Strep cannot be accurately diagnosed by symptoms or a physical exam alone. For more information, see: Strep throat
The following tips may help your sore throat feel better:
- Drink warm liquids such as lemon tea or tea with honey.
- Gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup water).
- Drink cold liquids or suck on popsicles.
- Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges. Young children should not be given such products because they can choke on them.
- A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can moisten and soothe a dry and painful throat.
- Try over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen.
Complications may include:
- Ear infection
- Peritonsillar abscess
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
You develop a sore throat that does not go away after several days
You have a high fever, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, or a rash
Seek immediate medical care if you have a sore throat and trouble breathing.
Wessels MR. Streptococcal pharyngitis.N Engl J Med. 2011;364:648-655.
Frye R, Bailey J, Blevins AE. Clinical inquiries. Which treatments provide the most relief for pharyngitis pain? J Fam Pract. 2011 May;60(5):293-4.
- Last Reviewed on 01/08/2012
- Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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This page was last updated: May 31, 2013