• Sore Throat

    (Pharyngitis; Tonsillopharyngitis; Throat Infection)


    A sore throat is the general name for two common conditions:
    • Pharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx (the back of the throat, including the back of the tongue)
    • Tonsillopharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx and the tonsils (soft tissue that makes up part of the throat's immune defenses)
    Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Many things can cause a sore throat, such as:
    • Infection with a virus, such as the viruses that cause influenza (the flu) and the common cold
    • Infection with bacteria, such as the bacteria that cause strep throat
    • Infectious mononucleosis
    • Mucus from your sinuses that drains into your throat
    • Smoking
    • Breathing polluted air
    • Drinking alcoholic beverages
    • Hay fever or other allergies
    • Acid reflux from the stomach
    • Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils

    Risk Factors

    Sore throats are more common in certain people. However, anyone can get a sore throat. Risk factors that may increase your chance of getting a sore throat include:
    • Age: children and teens, and people aged 65 or older
    • Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat, nose, or ears
    • Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
    • Having hay fever or other allergies
    • Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as AIDS or cancer


    Along with the sore throat, you may have other symptoms, such as:
    • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Fever
    • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
    • Hoarse voice
    • Red or irritated-looking throat
    • Swollen tonsils
    • White patches on or near your tonsils
    • Runny nose or stuffy nose
    • Cough

    When Should I Call My Doctor?

    Call your doctor if you:
    • Experience a worsening of your sore throat or the symptom lasts longer than you or your doctor expect
    • Have difficulty swallowing or breathing
    • Have developed other symptoms, such as:
      • White patches on tonsils (may be a sign of strep throat)
      • Enlarged lymph nodes on your neck
      • Dizziness or lightheadedness
      • Earache
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Fever
      • Rash
      • Muscle or joint aches
      • Fatigue
      • Blood in saliva
    The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests calling your child's doctor if your child has a sore throat that continues through the day (no matter what other symptoms are present).
    If you think you have an emergency, get medical care right away.


    Your doctor will do a physical exam. This involves looking closely at your mouth, throat, nose, ears, and the lymph nodes in your neck.
      This physical exam may include:
      • Using a small instrument to look inside the nose, ears, and mouth
      • Gently touching the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck to check for swelling
      • Taking your temperature
      • Examining your ears
      The doctor will ask questions about:
      • Your family and medical history
      • Recent exposure to someone with strep throat or any other infection of the throat, nose, or ears
      Other tests include:
      • Rapid strep test or throat culture—using a cotton swab to touch the back of the throat to check for strep throat
      • Blood tests—to identify conditions that may be causing the sore throat
      • Mono spot test (if mononucleosis is suspected)


    Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options include:


    • Antibiotics for strep throat
    • Drugs to reduce sore throat pain. These drugs include:
      • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
      • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
      • Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye's syndrome. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
    • Numbing throat spray for pain control
    • Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
    • Throat lozenges
    • Corticosteroids (used in combination with antibiotics for severe cases)

    Home Care

    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Drink plenty of water.
    • Gargle with warm salt water several times a day.
    • Drink warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquids.
    • Avoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold air.
    • Avoid drinking alcohol.


    Here are ways to reduce your chance of getting a sore throat:
    • Wash your hands frequently. Do this especially after blowing your nose or after caring for a child with a sore throat.
    • If someone in your home has a sore throat, keep their eating utensils and drinking glasses separate from those of other family members. Wash these objects in hot, soapy water.
    • If a toddler with a sore throat has been sucking on toys, wash the toys in soap and water.
    • Immediately get rid of used tissues, and then wash your hands.
    • If you have hay fever or another respiratory allergy, see your doctor. Avoid the substance that causes your allergy.


    American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.aap.org

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases http://www.niaid.nih.gov


    Canadian Society of Otolaryngology http://www.entcanada.org

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca


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