Sore throat, or pharyngitis, is discomfort, pain or scratchiness in the throat. It often makes it painful to swallow. 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 or the flu. Coxsackie virus or mononucleosis can also cause sore throat.
Bacteria can cause pharyngitis in some cases.
- Strep throat is caused by group A streptococcus.
- Less commonly, bacteria such as corynebacterium, gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause sore throat.
Most cases of pharyngitis occur during the colder months. The illness often spreads among close contacts.
The main symptom is a sore throat. Other symptoms may include:
- Joint pain and muscle aches
- Skin rashes
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck
Signs 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.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses. A few of these illnesses (such as some types of influenza) may be helped by antiviral medicines.
Antibiotics do not help viral sore throats. Using these medicines to treat viral infections helps strengthen bacteria and make them resistant to antibiotics.
The following tips may help your sore throat feel better:
- Drink warm liquids such as lemon tea or tea with honey.
- Gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup water).
- Drink cold liquids or suck on frozen fruit-flavored ice pops.
- Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges.
- Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can moisten and soothe a dry and painful throat.
- Try over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen.
Complications may include:
- Ear infection
- Abscess near the tonsils
When to call your health care provider
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.