Pharyngitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Overview

Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the tissues and structures in the pharynx, which is in the back of the throat. It is the medical term for a sore throat. Pharyngitis often makes it painful to swallow. Most cases of pharyngitis occur during the colder months of the year, accompanied with the cold or flu. Pharyngitis is often not serious, and it subsides within a week or less. According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), pharyngitis is one of the most common condition for doctor visits.

Causes

Pharyngitis is most commonly caused by viral infections such as the common cold, influenza, or mononucleosis. Less commonly, pharyngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, such as group A streptococcus. There are some common viral and bacterial agents that cause pharyngitis, including:

  • Measles
  • Adenovirus
  • Chickenpox
  • Croup
  • Whooping cough
  • Group A streptococcus
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae

Other causes of pharyngitis include:

  • Allergies
  • Dryness
  • Irritants
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),
  • HIV infection
  • Tumors of the throat, tongue or voice box

Symptoms

Symptoms of pharyngitis vary depending on the type of the infection. The main symptom of pharyngitis is a sore, dry, or itchy throat. Other possible symptoms may include:

  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Skin rash
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

Diagnosis

To diagnose pharyngitis, the following tests or procedures may be ordered:

  • Physical exam

The doctor will first look at your throat and check for any white or gray patches, swelling, and redness. The doctor may also look in your ears and nose with a lighted instrument, and feel the sides of your neck to check for swollen lymph nodes.

  • Throat culture

If the doctor suspects a bacterial infection, a throat culture to confirm the diagnosis may be ordered. It involves using a cotton swab to take a sample of the secretions from your throat. A throat culture may show which germ is causing your sore throat.

  • Blood tests

If your doctor suspects another cause of your pharyngitis, they may order a blood test. A small sample of blood from your arm or hand is drawn and then sent to a lab for testing. This test can determine whether an infection is more likely caused by a bacterial or viral agent.

Treatment

The treatment for pharyngitis varies depending on the underlying cause.

Viral pharyngitis will go away on its own without treatment. It does not respond to antibiotics, but over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and fever.

For bacterial infections, the doctor may prescribe a course of oral antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or penicillin. It is necessary to complete the entire course of antibiotics to ensure the infection is cleared and prevent reinfection.


Keywords: Pharyngitis.

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