Pharyngitis: Symptoms and treatment
A sore throat is pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that often worsens when swallowing.
A sore throat is the primary symptom of pharyngitis — inflammation of the pharynx, or throat. But the terms "sore throat" and "pharyngitis" are often used interchangeably.
The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. A sore throat caused by a virus usually resolves on its own with at-home care. A bacterial infection, a less common cause of sore throat, requires additional treatment with antibiotic drugs. Most cases of pharyngitis occur during the colder months. The illness often spreads among family members.
Symptoms of pharyngitis
- Pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat
- Pain that worsens with swallowing or talking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry throat
- Sore, swollen glands in your neck or jaw
- Swollen, red tonsils
- White patches or pus on your tonsils
- Hoarse or muffled voice
- Refusal to eat (infants and toddlers)
- Joint pain and muscle aches
- Skin rashes
Although anyone can get a sore throat, some factors make you more susceptible. These factors include:
- Age. Children and teens are most likely to develop sore throats. Children are also more likely to have strep throat, the most common bacterial infection associated with a sore throat.
- Tobacco. Smoking and secondhand smoke can irritate the throat. The use of tobacco products also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box.
- Allergies. If you have seasonal allergies or ongoing allergic reactions to dust, molds or pet dander, you're more likely to develop a sore throat than are people who don't have allergies.
- Exposure to chemical irritants. Particulate matter in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, as well as common household chemicals, can cause throat irritation.
- Chronic or frequent sinus infections. Chronic or frequent sinus infections increase the risk of sore throat, because drainage from the nose can irritate the throat or spread infection.
- Living or working in close quarters. Viral and bacterial infections spread easily anywhere people gather — child care centers, classrooms, offices, prisons and military installations.
- Lowered immunity. You're more susceptible to infections in general if your resistance is low. Common causes of lowered immunity include HIV, diabetes, treatment with steroids or chemotherapy drugs, stress, fatigue, and poor diet.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Regardless of the cause of your sore throat, at-home care strategies usually provide temporary relief. Try these strategies:
- Rest. Get plenty of sleep and rest your voice.
- Fluids. Drink plenty of water to keep the throat moist and prevent dehydration.
- Comforting foods and beverage. Warm liquids — broth, caffeine-free tea or warm water with honey — and cold treats such as ice pops can soothe a sore throat.
- Saltwater gargle. A saltwater gargle of 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of table salt to 8 ounces (237 milliliters) of warm water can help soothe a sore throat. Gargle the solution and then spit it out.
- Humidify the air. Use a cool-air humidifier to eliminate dry air that may further irritate a sore throat or sit for several minutes in a steamy bathroom.
- Avoid irritants. Keep your home free from cigarette smoke and cleaning products that can irritate the throat.
- Treat pain and fever. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may minimize throat pain.
Because viral illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat, it is important not to use antibiotics to treat them. Antibiotics do not alter the course of viral infections. Antibiotics also may kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.Viruses will run their own course and the infection usually will resolve when the body fights them off. Bacterial infections of the tonsils or adenoids are treated with antibiotics. Chronic infections may require surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids. Christina Efthymiou ENT surgeon