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Pharyngitis is inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the back of your throat or pharynx. This inflammation can cause discomfort, dry throat, and difficulty swallowing. Causes of pharyngitis include viral infections, such as common colds, and bacterial infections, such as group A Streptococcus

Pharyngitis is a common condition and rarely causes special concern. Viral pharyngitis often clears up on its own within a week. However, knowing the cause can help narrow down treatment options.

Make an appointment with a doctor if you have a sore throat due to pharyngitis, as many cases last for a few months. It is important to identify the cause in order to properly treat a sore throat. 

Causes of Pharyngitis

Common causes of pharyngitis occur due to viral infection. Some of the common viruses that can cause it include: 

  • Rhinovirus, coronavirus, or parainfluenza
  • Influenza or flu
  • Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis
  • Cold Adenovirus, which causes conjunctivitis

Mononucleosis is a contagious viral infection that causes numerous flu-like symptoms. The virus can spread through saliva, so that a person can contract it by sharing utensils, coughing and sneezing, or kissing.

Although less common, bacterial infections can also cause pharyngitis. Group A streptococcus bacteria often affects about 20% to 40% of children. Many people refer to it as strep throat.

Other bacterial infections that can cause pharyngitis include:

  • Group C and G streptococcus
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae

Factors that can increase the risk of pharyngitis include:

  • Have a history of allergies
  • Have a history of sinus infections
  • Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke

Pharyngitis Transmission

Pharyngitis is commonly caused by contagious viruses and bacteria. The germs that cause pharyngitis tend to live in the nose and throat. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, he or she releases tiny droplets that contain viruses or bacteria into the air.

A person can become infected with pharyngitis through:

  • Droplet transmission 
  • Consuming contaminated food and drink.
  • Touching contaminated objects and then touching their faces.

It is vital to wash your hands thoroughly before eating  or touching your face. This helps prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.

People usually recover from viral infections, such as the common cold, in 7 to 10 days. However, due to the incubation period, people may catch it before symptoms appear.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person can prevent the spread of strep throat to others by staying at home until he or she no longer has a fever and has taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

When to See a Doctor for Pharyngitis

Strep throat can occur as a result of various underlying medical conditions. Although viral infection is the most common cause of pharyngitis, it is still necessary to establish a diagnosis to find the right treatment.

Your doctor will likely diagnose pharyngitis by performing a physical exam first. He or she will review your current symptoms and check your throat, ears, and nose for signs of infection.

If you show clear signs of viral infection, it is unlikely that your doctor will carry out further testing.

When your doctor suspects a bacterial infection, your throat will likely be examined. This involves taking a sample from your throat and sending it to the lab for further analysis. 

Types of Screening Tests

1. Physical Exam

If you experience symptoms of pharyngitis, your doctor will examine your throat. He or she will check for white or gray patches, swelling, and redness. In addition, your doctor may also examine your ears and nose. To check for swollen lymph nodes, he or she will feel the side of your neck.

2. Throat culture

If your doctor suspects that you have strep throat, he or she will likely perform a test called throat culture. This involves using a cotton swab to collect sample secretions from your throat. 

A throat culture can usually be done in your doctor’s office. This test will tell your doctor within a few minutes to see if your result comes back positive or negative. 

In some cases, the samples are sent to the lab for further testing and the results will be available in at least 24 hours.

3. Blood test

If your doctor suspects another cause, he or she may perform blood tests. A blood sample from your arm or hand will be taken and sent to the laboratory for testing.

This test can determine if you have mononucleosis. A complete blood count (CBC) test can be done to determine if you have other types of infection.

Symptoms of Pharyngitis

The incubation period usually lasts 2 to 5 days. Symptoms of pharyngitis may vary depending on the underlying condition. In addition to strep throat, dry and itchy throat, and cold or flu, possible other symptoms may include:

  • Cold
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches 
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever, along with the flu 

Apart from a strep throat, the symptoms of mononucleosis include:

  • Malaise
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Red rash
  • loss of appetite
  • Severe fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Treatment for Pharyngitis

Treatment options for pharyngitis may vary depending on the cause. For bacterial infections, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or penicillin. Antibiotics work to prevent complications, such as rheumatic fever or kidney disease, but not to treat sore throats.

It is important to take all the antibiotics prescribed to make sure the infection has resolved and prevent a recurrence. Prescription antibiotics are usually for 7 to 10-day consumption.

Pharyngitis caused by viruses does not respond to antibiotics, but usually goes away on its own. However, over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and fever.

Treatment Cost

Treatment cost for pharyngitis will depend on your condition. 

For more details regarding the estimated cost for pharyngitis treatment at home and abroad, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Pharyngitis

Pharyngitis can be prevented by maintaining good hygiene. Follow these steps to prevent pharyngitis:

  • Avoid smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Avoid direct contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, and cutlery
  • Wash your hands frequently – especially before eating and after coughing or sneezing
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available

Home Remedies for Strep Throat

If your strep throat (or pharyngitis) is caused by a virus, self-care treatments can help relieve symptoms, including: 

  • Use a humidifier
  • Eat warm broth
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Get plenty of rest until you feel better
  • Gargle with warm saltwater

For pain and fever relief, consider taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Lozenges can also help relieve itchy sore throat.

Alternative remedies may sometimes be used to treat pharyngitis. However, you should contact your doctor before using it to avoid drug interactions or other health complications.

Some of the most commonly used herbs to relieve pharyngitis are: 

  • Sage
  • Licorice
  • Slippery elm 
  • Marshmallow root
  • Honeysuckle

Make an appointment with ENT specialists through Smarter Health if you have symptoms of pharyngitis. Smarter Health‘s online consultation (teleconsultation) service grants you access to medical treatments whenever you need them without the need to leave the house – thus minimizing the spread of COVID-19. 

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