Sore Throat



The pain and discomfort of a sore throat, also called pharyngitis (fairun-JY-tis), are usually the result of inflammation due to infection or irritation.

KEYWORDS

for searching the Internet and other reference sources

Adenovirus

Common cold

Group A streptococci

Influenza

Mononucleosis

Pharyngitis

Strep throat

Streptococcal infections

Viral infections

What Is a Sore Throat?

A sore throat can be a symptom of many infectious diseases. Viral infections such as the common cold, influenza * , adenovirus * infection, and infectious mononucleosis * cause most sore throats. Bacterial infections are less common, but the sore throats they produce usually are more severe. Group A beta hemolytic streptococci (he-muh-LIH-tik strep-tuh-KAH-kye) are the most common bacterial culprits, and they cause strep throat. Rarely, fungal infections can cause a sore throat, usually in people with weakened immune systems. Non-infectious causes of sore throat include allergies, postnasal drip (the dripping of mucus from the back of the nose into the throat), and too much yelling or straining the voice. Smoking and other irritants also can cause a sore throat.

* influenza (in-floo-EN-zuh), also known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory tract.

* adenovirus (ah-deh-no-W-rus) is a type of virus that can produce a variety of symptoms, including upper respiratory disease, when it infects humans.

Are Sore Throats Common?

Sore throats are very common, especially in children. It is not unusual for children between the ages of 5 and 10 to develop several sore throat infections over the course of a year. Most of these illnesses are common viral respiratory infections. About 15 percent of all sore throats are caused by group A streptococci.

All of the infections that cause sore throats are contagious. They can spread through contact with drops of fluid from an infected person that can be coughed or sneezed into the air. The drops can be inhaled or transferred by the hand to the mouth or nose. The infections that cause sore throats also can spread through direct contact with an infected person, such as through kissing.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms
of a Sore Throat?

Sore throats are painful, sometimes swollen, and red. Many viral infections that cause sore throats are associated with other symptoms, including hoarseness, runny nose, cough, and diarrhea (dye-uh-REE-uh).

Streptococcal infections frequently produce a bright red throat, trouble swallowing, and swollen, often tender lymph nodes * in the neck. The tonsils * often are enlarged, there may be white specks and pus * on them, or they may be covered with a gray or white coating. Other symptoms of strep throat include high fever, headache, and abdominal * pain.

Sore throat is a common symptom of infectious mononucleosis, a viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr (EP-steen BAR) virus. The tonsils become very swollen and, as in strep throat, may have white patches or an extensive coating. Swallowing is difficult and, in a few cases, the tonsils enlarge enough to cause difficulty breathing. Other signs and symptoms of mononucleosis include swollen lymph nodes in the neck, fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches, and an enlarged spleen.

How Do Doctors Diagnose the Cause of a
Sore Throat?

If the doctor suspects that a patient might have a strep throat infection, the doctor will use a cotton swab to take a sample from the throat and tonsils for a culture * . Often, the doctor will do a rapid strep test in the office, but this quick test is not as reliable as a culture.

Infectious mononucleosis is diagnosed by examining blood samples for antibodies * to the virus. Nasal and throat swabs can be tested to detect other causes of a sore throat, if necessary. If a patient's sore throat and other symptoms match those of a common viral cold or respiratory infection, the doctor may base the diagnosis on the physical symptoms alone.

* mononucleosis (mah-no-nu-klee-O-sis) is an infectious illness caused by a virus with symptoms that typically include fever, sore throat, swollen glands, and tiredness.

* lymph (LIMF) nodes are small, bean-shaped masses of tissue that contain immune system cells that fight harmful microorganisms. Lymph nodes may swell during infections.

* tonsils are paired clusters of lymph tissue in the throat that help protect the body from bacteria and viruses that enter through a person's nose or mouth.

* pus is a thick, creamy fluid, usually yellow or greenish in color, that forms at the site of an infection. Pus contains infection-fighting white cells and other substances.

* abdominal (ab-DAH-mih-nul) refers to the area of the body below the ribs and above the hips that contains the stomach, intestines, and other organs.

* culture (KUL-chur) is a test in which a sample of fluid or tissue from the body is placed in a dish containing material that supports the growth of certain organisms. Typically, within days the organisms will grow and can be identified.

* antibodies (AN-tih-bah-deez) are protein molecules produced by the body's immune system to help fight specific infections caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses.

How Is a Sore Throat Treated?

Treatment of a sore throat depends on the diagnosis. If it stems from a common cold caused by a virus, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms until the illness disappears. Drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent dehydration * and clear out mucus * in the back of the throat. Water, ginger ale, warm tea with honey, and soups are good choices, but not acidic juices (such as lemonade or orange juice), because they can irritate the throat. Gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat, and over-the-counter pain relievers and throat drops can help ease symptoms as well. Antibiotics are not effective for treating viral infections such as colds. Most viral sore throats go away on their own without complications, and they generally clear up within a few days to a week.

When strep throat has been diagnosed, a 10-day course of antibiotics usually is prescribed; all of the antibiotics should be taken as directed to prevent complications. Strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever * , kidney * problems, or throat abscesses * , and prompt treatment with antibiotics can prevent some of these complications. Symptoms of strep throat usually improve within 1 to 2 days of starting antibiotics.

The best treatment for infectious mononucleosis is rest. In addition, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (uh-see-teh-MIH-noh-fen) can help relieve pain and fever. Infectious mononucleosis can take from 1 to 2 months to subside, and other symptoms from the illness, such as tiredness, can remain for months after.

Can Sore Throats Be Prevented?

Many respiratory infections are spread through contact with respiratory fluids from infected people. The best prevention strategy is basic hygiene, which includes covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing and washing hands regularly. If someone has an infection or has been in close contact with someone who does, it is wise not to share utensils, food, and drinking glasses with that person.

* dehydration (dee-hi-DRAY-shun) is a condition in which the body is depleted of water, usually caused by excessive and unreplaced loss of body fluids, such as through sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea.

* mucus (MYOO-kus) is a thick, slippery substance that lines the insides of many body parts.

* rheumatic (roo-MAH-tik) fever is a condition associated with fever, joint pain, and inflammation affecting many parts of the body, including the heart. It occurs following infections with certain types of strep bacteria.

* kidney is one of the pair of organs that filter blood and remove waste products and excess water from the body in the form of urine

* abscesses (AB-seh-sez) are localized or walled off accumulations of pus caused by infection that can occur in the skin and anywhere within the body.

Resources

Organizations

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Building 31, Room 7A-50, 31 Center Drive MSC 2520, Bethesda, MD 20892. The NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health, posts information about sore throats at its website.
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20894. The National Library of Medicine has a website packed with information on diseases and conditions such as sore throat. It also offers consumer resources, dictionaries and encyclopedias of medical terms, and directories of doctors and helpful organizations.
Telephone 888-346-3656
http://www.nlm.nih.gov

Website

KidsHealth.org . KidsHealth is a website created by the medical experts of the Nemours Foundation and is devoted to issues of children's health. It contains articles on a variety of health topics, including sore throat.
http://www.KidsHealth.org

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