Sore Throat

(Pharyngitis; Tonsillopharyngitis; Throat Infection)
  • Definition

    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
    IMAGE
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Causes

    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
    • Certain immune or inflammatory disorders
  • 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
  • Symptoms

    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.
  • 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
    • Antibiotics for strep throat
    • Drugs to reduce sore throat pain. These drugs include:
      • Ibuprofen
      • Acetaminophen
      • 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 if there is trouble breathing
    Home Care
    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Drink plenty of water.
    • Gargle with warm saline 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.
  • Prevention

    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.
  • RESOURCES

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

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

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

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

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

    References

    Brink AJ, Cotton MF, et al. Guideline for the management of upper respiratory tract infections. S Afr Med J . 2004;94:475-483.

    Carson-DeWitt R. Common cold. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary . Updated September 1, 2011. Accessed February 21, 2011.

    The difference between a sore throat, strep and tonsillitis. Healthy Children.org website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/The-Difference-Between-a-Sore-Throat-Strep-and-Tonsillitis.aspx . Updated January 30, 2012. Accessed February 27, 2012.

    DynaMed Editorial Team. Streptococcal pharyngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated October 12, 2010. Accessed November 10, 2010.

    Editorial staff and contributors. Strep throat. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary . Updated September 20, 2011. Accessed February 21, 2011.

    Mayo Clinic. Sore throat. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sore-throat/DS00526 . Updated October 1, 2007. Accessed June 15, 2008.

    Neff D. Discharge instructions for strep throat. EBSCO Patient Education Reference Center (PERC) website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/patient-education-reference-center . December 30, 2011. Accessed February 21, 2011.

    Patient UK. Sore throat. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/sore-throat . Accessed November 10, 2010.

    Perkins A. An approach to diagnosing the acute sore throat. Am Fam Physician . 1997;55:131-138,141-142.

    Sore throat. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/sore-throat.html . Updated March 2009. Accessed November 10, 2010.

    Throat problems. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/throat-problems.html . Accessed February 21, 2011.

    Vincent MT, Celestin N, et al. Pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician . 2004;69:1465-1470.

    11/10/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : 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.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer:
    • Review Date: 09/2013
    • Update Date: 09/30/2013
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