Commonly referred to as a sore throat, pharyngitis is an infection that causes inflammation of pharynx. The pharynx is situated at the back area of the throat. Patients may suffer from pain, scratching sensations, and irritation in throat area; these symptoms are more prominent when swallowing.
In most cases, sore throat is a symptom of flu, common cold, and other viral infections. Such infections are mild and tend to clear out in some days. However, strep throat, i.e., infection of throat by bacteria, requires treatment with antibiotics and other medications. Other underlying causative ailments of pharyngitis may require additional therapies.
Pharyngitis – Contagious or not?
Most instances of pharyngitis occur as a symptom of bacterial or viral infections. The infections are usually contagious and hence pharyngitis is also contagious. The germs are present in large numbers in the saliva, mucus, and nasal discharge of patients. When they sneeze or cough the infected droplets of saliva or secretions of nose are released into air; these can then spread and infect healthy people. The germs may also transmit when kissing a person with pharyngitis.
Certain strains of viruses, bacteria, and other pharyngitis infection causing pathogens can reside for a long time on inanimate objects like door knobs, towels, utensils, etc. Exposure to such infected objects can lead to spread of the illness.
Cover mouth when coughing, etc.; don’t share towels or other personal things with others; wash the hands regularly; and maintain proper hygiene to prevent the spread of contagious pharyngitis causing pathogens.
Symptoms of pharyngitis
People affected by pharyngitis may elicit the below listed signs and symptoms:
- Pain and scratchy sensations in throat; the pain may exacerbate when swallowing food, water, saliva, etc. or when talking
- Difficulties in swallowing
- Changes in voice, such as hoarseness or barely audible voice
- The tonsils may be swollen and red
- Whitish lesions with or without pus may occur on tonsils
- The glands in the neck or jaw may elicit soreness and/or swelling
If underlying causative infections are present, then pharyngitis signs and symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Aches and pains in the body
- Breathing difficulties in some instances
Causes of pharyngitis
Pharyngitis may be caused due to below listed causes:
- Mild causes
- Chronic congestion of nose may trigger breathing through mouth, which makes affected people more prone to developing pharyngitis along with dryness and soreness of throat.
- Dry air like that found in heated homes/buildings can cause irritation and scratchiness in throat. Throat roughness is more evident in mornings.
- Air pollution and exposure to cigarette smoke or other harmful toxins or chemicals can trigger throat irritation and chronic pharyngitis
- The throat muscles can become strained due to prolonged speech without throat rest; shouting or cheering continuously at sports events, etc; and/or talking very loudly at crowded/noisy places like a bar, etc. This increases risk of pharyngitis and soreness of throat
- Alcoholism, smoking, and intake of spicy and hot foods can also act as triggers
- Pharyngitis may occur due to bacterial infections. Strep throat caused by strep bacterial infection is the most prevalent.
- Common cold, flu/influenza, mononucleosis, chickenpox, croup, and measles are viral infections commonly associated with pharyngitis
- Extremely infected tissue or abscess can sometimes trigger sore throat
- Other Causes
- Pharyngitis and soreness of throat may occur as part of an allergic reaction to varied allergens like pollen, mites, mold, dust, etc. Underlying case of postnasal drip can worsen the situation and trigger throat irritation and inflammation
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease causes the backward and upward flow of stomach juices via the food pipe, thereby causing pharyngitis marked by voice hoarseness, lumpy feeling in throat, and heartburn, etc.
- Flu-like symptoms along with pharyngitis may sometimes be indicative of HIV infection. HIV patients who contract secondary infections such as oral thrush or cytomegalovirus, etc. may be prone to repeated and prolonged cases of sore throat. The infections are mild in healthy people, but can cause serious problems in people with weakened immune systems.
- Cancerous growths in throat or other areas of the oral cavity can increase risk of Additional symptoms of such malignancies include lumpy feeling in neck, noisy inhalation, swallowing problems, and blood in saliva, etc
Treatment of pharyngitis
Pharyngitis treatment involves medications, self-care measures, and home remedies as discussed below:
- Viral infections are mild and resolve in some days without medical treatment. Painkillers may be taken for easing discomfort and soreness of throat.
- Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Patients need to complete the full course of antibiotics prescribed by doctor and not stop mid-way if symptoms ease up/disappear; else the infection may spread and cause complications.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other throat irritants; rest throat and voice; quit smoking; drink lots of water and keep the body hydrated
- Home remedies for sore throat include gargling with salt water; intake of broth, warm water mixed with honey, or other comforting liquid foods; steaming in sauna; and removing dry air by using a de-humidifier.