What is Pharyngitis?
Pharyngitis is one of several designations of a sore throat. It refers to the inflammation of the pharynx, which is located at the back of the throat between the tonsils and the voicebox (larynx).
"The 2000 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey found that acute pharyngitis accounts for 1.1 percent of visits in the primary care setting and is ranked in the top 20 reported primary diagnoses resulting in office visits" (www.aafp.org).
Causes & Symptoms
Most cases of pharyngitis are caused by viruses (eg: mononucleosis, inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nasal cavities [coryza], or conjunctivitis), and are actually a sign of an underlying illness, usually a cold or the flu. Bacterial sore throats are very commonly caused by Group A Streptococcus (strep throat).
Pharyngitis caused by beta-hemolytic streptococcus accounted for 15-30 percent of cases in children and five to 15 percent of adult cases (www.aafp.org). In such cases, patients are contagious during the acute stage of the illness and for one week following.
Other causes include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- post-nasal drip from the sinuses
- persistent cough
- foreign bodies
- mouth breathing (dry throat)
Since a sore throat is usually only a symptom of an underlying condition, other accompanying symptoms may include (either at the same time as or following the onset of the sore throat):
- joint pain, achy muscles
- skin rashes
- swollen lymph nodes
Specifically with a cold, accompanying symptoms could include:
- low-grade fever (below 102F)
- mild headache
If the sore throat is related to the flu, accompanying symptoms could include:
- body aches
- fever above 102 F
If the sore throat is associated with mononucleosis, accompanying symptoms could include:
- enlarged lymph nodes in neck and underarms
- swollen tonsils
- loss of appetite
- swollen spleen
- inflammation of the liver (www.umm.edu)
- skin rash
Treatments and Warnings
Since most cases of pharyngitis are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not work, and the virus must simply be allowed to run its course. Treatment should focus on reducing the effects of the symptoms - lowering fever and decreasing pain. If the cause is bacterial, as in the case of strep throat, antibiotics are usually prescribed.
Suggested at-home sore throat remedies include:
- drinking warm liquids (eg: honey or lemon tea)
- gargle several times a day (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup of water)
- suck on popsicles or ice cubes
- suck on hard candies or lozenges (except in young children who may choke)
- cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier
- over-the-counter pain medications (eg: acetaminophen/ibuprofen) (www.nlm.nih.gov)
Symptoms should dissipate and resolve on their own as the body fights off the virus, usually within 10 - 14 days.
Where pharyngitis is caused by GABHS, complications can include rheumatic fever and peritonsillar ascess, although the former occurs in less than one case per 100,000 and the latter occurs in fewer than one percent of cases who receive antibiotic treatment (www.aafp.org).
Contact your family physician if your sore throat does not go away after several days or condition worsens, and if you develop a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, a rash, and/or difficulty breathing.
Sources: www.nlm.nih.gov; www.umm.edu (University of Maryland Medical Center); www.medicinenet.com; www.aafp.org (American Academy of Family Physicians); www.dictionary.com