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Pharyngitis / Tonsillopharyngitis
(Sore Throat, Throat Infection)

Definition:
Pharyngitis is the swelling and inflammation of the pharynx. The pharynx is the back of the throat, including the back of the tongue. Tonsillopharyngitis is the swelling of the pharynx and the tonsils. The tonsils are soft tissues that make up part of the throat's immune defenses. Both pharyngitis and tonsillopharyngitis are commonly called a sore throat. Sore throats can easily be treated. If you have a sore throat for more than two days, contact your doctor.

Causes:
Many things can cause pharyngitis and tonsillopharyngitis. Causes include:
  • 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
  • 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
  • Allergies
  • Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils

Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition. Almost everyone will get a sore throat in his or her life. The following risk factors increase your chances of getting a sore throat:

  • Age: children and teens, and people age 65 or older
  • Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat, nose, or ears
  • Traveling, working, or living in close contact with people
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
  • Having other medical conditions that affect your immune system, such as AIDS or cancer
  • Stress
  • Hay fever or other allergies
Symptoms:
Your symptoms depend on the cause of the pharyngitis or tonsillopharyngitis. If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to pharyngitis or tonsillopharyngitis. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

Symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
Diagnosis:
The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look 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 help identify underlying conditions that may be causing the sore throat
Treatment:
Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Treatment options include:

Medications:

  • Antibiotics for strep throat
  • Drugs to reduce the pain of the sore throat; these drugs include:
    • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    • Aspirin (not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection; check with your doctor before giving a child aspirin)
  • Numbing throat spray
  • Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Vitamin C if recommended by your doctor
  • Throat lozenges

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 smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, and cold air
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
Prevention:
To reduce your chances of getting a sore throat, take the following steps:
  • Wash your hands frequently, 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 his or her 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 to get treatment. Avoid the substance that causes your allergy.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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