A sore throat is an inflammation or infection of the pharynx. The pharynx is the part of the throat between the mouth and the larynx, or voice box. The tonsils are in the pharynx.
A sore throat usually comes on suddenly, and is called acute. Some people have an ongoing, or chronic, form of the condition.
The symptoms of a sore throat can include: pain when swallowingdifficulty swallowingfeverdifficulty speaking, usually caused by an inflammation of the voice box known as laryngitisinflammation of the mucous membranes in the back of the throatwhite patches in the back of the throat, if the sore throat is caused by bacteriatender, swollen lymph nodes in the neck
A sore throat can occur in viral infections such as the common cold, influenza, and infectious mononucleosis. Another cause may be bacteria such as Group A Streptococcus. This kind of sore throat is often called strep throat. Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea can cause sore throat.
A chronic sore throat may be caused by constant irritation from smoking, breathing heavily polluted air, consuming too much alcohol, by swallowing substances that scald or scratch the throat, or in a person who suffers from allergies, by the drainage of fluid into the throat from the back of the nasal cavity.
Avoiding irritation of the throat can sometimes prevent a sore throat.
A throat culture can distinguish a sore throat due to bacterial infection, from other causes, usually viral.
Untreated strep throat may lead to rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an inflammation of the joints and the heart resulting from a streptococcal infection. Some types of sore throat may cause difficulty breathing due to swelling, spread of the infection to nearby tissues, or the formation of abscesses.
A sore throat caused by Group A streptococcus is contagious. A sore throat caused by a sexually transmitted bacterial infection is also contagious, as are sore throats caused by many viruses.
A sore throat caused by a virus is treated only to relieve symptoms. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses. A warm salt-water gargle and throat lozenges can help reduce pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) can be used to treat pain and fever. Children and adolescents under 18 with a suspected viral infection should never be given aspirin, because of the risk of a rare but very serious neurological condition known as Reye syndrome.
The person should drink plenty of liquids. A sore throat caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. The full course of antibiotics should be taken, even if the symptoms improve before the medication is gone. A chronic sore throat is treated by eliminating the cause of the inflammation.
Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, or an allergic reaction.
Sore throats usually clear up within a few days.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Natural Resources, Shealy. Alternative Medicine Self-Care Guide, Time-Life. Take Care of Yourself, Fries. Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997.