Sore throat is an inflammation of the wall of the throat. Often, the tonsils are inflamed too. The condition can suddenly arise, but sometimes the condition may be chronic. A sore throat can also be an expression of a disease that affects the entire body, such as infectious mononucleosis and leukemia.
A sore throat is caused by a virus or bacterium, but can also have other causes:
- Virus. The common cold virus can cause inflammation in the pharynx. The pharynx is located between the back of the nose and the beginning of the trachea and vocal cords. Infectious mononucleosis and the influenza virus can also cause a sore throat.
- Bacterium. A bacterial sore throat is usually caused by the streptococcus bacterium. This infection arises very suddenly and is accompanied by pain, redness, swollen throat, pus on the tonsils, fever, headache and discomfort. A sore throat can also be the precursor of scarlet fever.
- Other causes. Sore throat can also be caused by smoking or drinking, gargling, vitamin shortage or food allergy and it can be a symptom of blood disorders, such as anemia.
Throat pain usually passes on its own after a few days, but an inflammation which is accompanied by high fever may take three weeks. A sore throat is contagious. A person may be infected by inhaling water droplets containing the pathogen. These droplets are released into the air by coughing of a person with sore throat. After infection, it takes about three days before the first symptoms occur.
In case of a sore throat, the following signs and symptoms may occur:
- Pain or burning sensation in the throat.
- Pain when swallowing.
- The throat looks red with sometimes whitish spots and white mucus.
- Swollen glands in the neck.
- Hoarse voice.
The diagnosis of sore throat is easily made by the general practitioner. Usually, the symptoms already indicate a sore throat. Looking into the throat demonstrates that the pharynx is red and swollen and is sometimes hidden under a substantial layer of spit. Also the palate and tonsils are often red. Optionally, a smear can be made from the throat and blood tests can be carried out. However, those latter two examinations are rarely performed in case of sore throats. In children, there is often tonsillitis.
Most patients with a sore throat don’t need to visit a doctor. The symptoms of the sore throat usually disappear after a few days to a week. In order to combat the pain, the patient can use paracetamol. Treatment with antibiotics is rarely needed. Throat pain is usually caused by a virus and antibiotics don’t work against it. When a person has a severe sore throat for more than 5 times a year, or more than six times in the last two years, removal of the tonsils may help.
A viral sore throat is a nasty, but generally harmless disease that will disappear on its own within a week. Treatment is usually not necessary. Sore throat in case of infectious mononucleosis, which sometimes may be quite severe, also passes on its own.
A sore throat caused by a bacterium, often has a more severe course. The pain is worse and the fever is higher, but even these infections will usually heal on their own.
- One can ease the pain by drinking cold fluids, eating a popsicle or sucking on liquorices or lozenges. Some people also benefit from gargling with tea or salt water.
- Take it easy for a few days.
- Not smoking and not consuming alcoholic beverages also helps.
- In case of dry air indoors, a humidifier or placing cups of water can help.
- Avoid talking a lot, since this causes extra irritation of the throat.
- If the pain is very nasty, a painkiller can help, for example paracetamol.
- The term ‘pharyngitis’ is derived from the Latin word pharynx (gullet, throat). The suffix -itis indicates that it is an inflammation.
- The prevalence is unknown, because most people with sore throats don’t go to the doctor.
- Children have a sore throat on average 5 times a year, adults on average 2 times a year.