• Sore Throat

    (Pharyngitis; Tonsillopharyngitis; Throat Infection)

    Definition

    A sore throat is the general name for 2 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
    IMAGE
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    Many things can cause a sore throat such as:
    • Viral infections such as theflu, herpangina, and the common cold
    • Bacterial infections such as strep throat
    • Infectious mononucleosis
    • Mucus from your sinuses that drains into your throat
    • Smoking
    • Breathing polluted air
    • Drinking alcoholic beverages
    • Seasonal or other allergies
    • Acid reflux from the stomach
    • Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils
    • Certain immune or inflammatory disorders

    Risk Factors

    Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of a sore throat include:
    • Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat or nose
    • Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
    • Having seasonal or other allergies
    • Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as HIV infection or cancer

    Symptoms

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

    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
      • Rash
      • Fever
      • Earache
      • Lightheadedness
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • 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 goes on for more than 1 day (no matter what other symptoms are present).
    If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

    Diagnosis

    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
      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 some conditions that may be causing the sore throat
      • Mono spot test—if mononucleosis is suspected

    Treatment

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

    Medications

      Pain relievers or fever reducers
      • Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
    • Antibiotics for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection
    • Throat lozenges
    • Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
    • Numbing throat spray for pain control in older children and adults, although the relief is very short-lived
    • Corticosteroids if there is trouble breathing

    Home Care

    Self-care steps you can do at home:
    • Get plenty of rest
    • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Try warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquids
    • Gargle with warm saline several times a day
    • Avoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold air
    • Avoid drinking alcohol

    Prevention

    To help reduce your chances of 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.

    RESOURCES

    Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics https://www.healthychildren.org

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

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

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

    Health Canada https://www.canada.ca

    References

    Choby BA. Diagnosis and treatment of streptococcal pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(5):383-390.

    Pharyngitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114913/Pharyngitis. Updated August 25, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

    Sore throat. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/sore-throat. Updated May 2014. Accessed September 27, 2017.

    Sore throat. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/health/sore-throat-leaflet. Accessed October 19, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017

    The difference between a sore throat, strep and tonsillitis. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/The-Difference-Between-a-Sore-Throat-Strep-and-Tonsillitis.aspx. Updated February 26, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

    Throat problems. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/symptom/throat-problems. Accessed September 27, 2017.

    Vincent MT, Celestin N, Hussain AN. Pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(6):1465-1470.

    11/10/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T474266/Steroids-for-pharyngitis: Hayward G, Thompson M, Heneghan C, Perera R, Del Mar C, Glasziou P. Corticosteroids for pain relief in sore throat: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2009;339:b2976.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD
    • Review Date: 09/2017
    • Update Date: 09/30/2014
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