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Throat anatomy
Throat anatomy


Pharyngitis - sore throat

Definition:

Pharyngitis, or sore throat, is discomfort, pain, or scratchiness in the throat. It often makes it painful to swallow.



Alternative Names:

Pharyngitis - bacterial; Sore throat



Causes:

Pharyngitis is caused by swelling in the back of the throat (pharynx) between the tonsils and the (larynx).

Most sore throats are caused by colds, the flu, coxsackie virus or mono (mononucleosis).

Bacteria that can cause pharyngitis in some cases.

  • Strep throat is caused by group A streptococcus.
  • Less commonly, bacteria such as gonorrhea, and chlamydia can cause sore throat.

Most cases of pharyngitis occur during the colder months. The illness often spreads among family members and close contacts.



Symptoms:

The main symptom is a sore throat.

Other symptoms may include:



Exams 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.



Treatment:

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not help viral sore throats. Using these medicines when they are not needed leads to antibiotics not working as well when they are needed.

Sore throat is treated with antibiotics if:

  • A strep test or culture is positive. Your health care provider cannot diagnose strep throat by symptoms or a physical exam alone.
  • A culture for chlamydia or gonorrhea is positive.

Sore throat caused by the flu (influenza) may be helped by antiviral medicines.

The following tips may help your sore throat feel better:

  • Drink soothing liquids. You can either drink warm liquids, such as lemon tea with honey, or cold liquids, such as ice water. You could also suck on a fruit-flavored ice pop.
  • Gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup of water).
  • Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges. Young children should not be given these products because they can choke on them.
  • Use of a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can moisten the air and soothe a dry and painful throat.
  • Try over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen.


Possible Complications:

Complications may include:

  • Ear infection
  • Sinusitis
  • Abscess near the tonsils


When to Contact a Medical Professional:

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.




Review Date: 2/4/2014
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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