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Pharyngitis - Signs, Symptoms, Treatment and Precautions

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Pharyngitis - Signs, Symptoms, Treatment and Precautions

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Commonly called the sore throat, pharyngitis is an Infection of the pharynx due to microbes. Read the article to get to know about pharyngitis in detail.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At December 31, 2016
Reviewed AtMarch 15, 2024

What Is Pharynx?

The pharynx is a thin mucosal membrane-lined cavity that lies behind the nose and mouth, and together with them, it opens into the esophagus.

What Is Pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis can be defined as an infection or irritation of the pharynx or tonsils. The etiology is usually infectious, of which most cases are of viral origin, closely followed by bacterial infections. Other less frequent causes include allergies, trauma, toxins, and certain cancers.

What Causes Pharyngitis?

It is difficult to distinguish whether a particular event of pharyngitis is due to viral or bacterial infection merely based on history and physical examination. However, the causes are specific to acquiring the infections. The reasons can be any of the following.

  • Recent contact with a person having a throat infection.

  • Recent visits to healthcare places like clinics, hospitals, etc.

  • Sudden change in routine environment or exposure to the allergens such as pollen grain, cat hair, etc. This is typical of allergic pharyngitis.

  • Consumption of toxic substances, such as caustic substances, spirits, etc., profoundly irritates the thin mucosal lining.

  • Physical trauma in the form of serious external injuries in the inner part of the mouth or throat. This includes swallowing foreign body substances like coins, stones, etc.

  • Suffering from chronic illnesses like respiratory disorders, throat cancer, etc.

What Are the Symptoms of Pharyngitis?

The symptoms of pharyngitis are as follows:

  1. Sudden onset.

  2. Fever of mild to moderate grade.

  3. Sore throat and itching sensation in the throat.

  4. Pain in the throat area.

  5. Difficulty in swallowing.

  6. Headache with pain in the eyes, sometimes associated with redness of eyes.

  7. Stuffiness in the nose.

  8. Cough may or may not be present. If present with expectorations, it is likely to be a bacterial infection.

  9. Generalized body aches and weakness.

What Is the Process of Diagnosing Pharyngitis?

  • Diagnosis of pharyngitis typically involves a physical examination where the doctor inspects the throat for signs like redness, swelling, or white patches.

  • Examination of the ears, nose, and neck lymph nodes may also be conducted.

  • If strep throat is suspected, a throat culture using a cotton swab is performed, often with rapid strep testing.

  • Blood tests, including those for mononucleosis and complete blood count, may be ordered to investigate other potential causes.

How Can We Prevent Pharyngitis?

  1. Maintaining a proper immunity level is a must to avoid getting such opportunistic infections. Besides, genetic predispositions of our body build its immunity cells based on our daily habits, including the food we eat, our stress levels, our sleep-wake cycle, exercises, and sedentary habits. With its self-adjusting mechanism, our body forms its defense line. Any sudden change or exposure to the non-routine atmosphere results in the symptoms.

  2. Maintaining proper dietary habits. Fruits and vegetables in the daily diet provide the essential nutrients for our body to form defense cells. Avoid frequent consumption of oil and fat-containing food items.

  3. Frequent heavy alcohol consumption must be avoided.

  4. Avoid continuous sedentary habits. A sleep-wake cycle should be maintained. The sleep of 6 to 8 hours a day suffices bodily needs. A mild to moderate exercise of about 1 hour daily would help pump up the defense cells in the body.

  5. If the person is a known allergic to a particular substance, then avoidance and protection from exposure to the known allergen is the best call.

  6. Oral hygiene also plays an equally important role in acquiring such infections. Brushing and cleaning the oral cavity twice a day helps avoid most bacterial infections.

What Are the Dos and Don’ts of Pharyngitis?


  1. Be responsible enough not to expose other people, especially children, to infections by sneezing and coughing in public places without covering the nose and mouth with a handkerchief.

  2. Follow a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.

  3. Consult the doctor on time and complete the prescribed treatment course.


  1. Do not self-treat or ask for medications at the pharmacy counter without a doctor's consultation.

  2. Do not wait for too long for the symptoms to subside.

  3. Do not stop the prescribed treatment without consulting the doctor. Stopping the treatment in the middle would leave the infection unresolved, and the person may get sick again.

How Is Pharyngitis Treated?

  • Viral-origin pharyngitis, as such, has only symptomatic treatment. This is mainly because antiviral medications are not recommended for such infections. These infections usually subside by themselves within a few days.

  • Bacterial infections must be treated with antibiotics, which the doctor chooses. He chooses based on the requirement and suspected etiology. Taking any random antibiotic might worsen the symptoms or might not resolve the infection completely, leading to relapse. Over the years, studies have shown that because of the constant abusive use of antibiotics, the resistance among the bacteria has increased, making it difficult for us to treat the infections.

  • Allergic origin has to be treated with antihistamine drugs, which alleviate the allergic effect of the allergens. Antibiotics have no role in this scenario as such. Proper choice of antihistamines is also crucial because many of them are known to cause sedation, which would affect the person's day-to-day life. Hence, consultation with a proper doctor will help choose an appropriate drug treatment according to the scenario.

  • For a cause like toxic origin, the main aim remains to get rid of the toxin and its harmful effects, as well as other medications as adjunctive.

  • In the case of cancer, oncological consultation will help reduce and resolve the symptoms.

So, the bottom line is that treatment for any symptom demands attention and consultation with a qualified doctor to get terminated.

What Home Remedies Help in Improving Recovery?

For pharyngitis caused by a virus, home care methods can alleviate symptoms. These include staying hydrated, consuming warm broth, gargling with warm salt water, using a humidifier, and getting adequate rest. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with pain and fever. Throat lozenges may also provide relief. Alternative remedies like honeysuckle, licorice, marshmallow root, sage, and slippery elm are sometimes used, but consulting a doctor beforehand is advised to avoid potential complications.

What Are the Complications of Pharyngitis?

  • Sinusitis.

  • Tonsillar abscess.

  • Ear infection.

  • Very rarely rheumatic fever.


Pharyngitis or sore throat is a common yet rarely severe condition and is most commonly associated with the common cold or flu. When experiencing any of the symptoms of pharyngitis, reach out to a healthcare provider to get the best treatment. Practicing good respiratory etiquette is needed to prevent the occurrence and spread of pharyngitis.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Much Time Does Pharyngitis Take to Heal?

Acute pharyngitis cases take around seven to ten days to heal completely. Healing periods vary in different people based on the duration of the disease (acute or chronic) and initiation of treatment. Pharyngitis due to bacterial causes usually takes a longer time to heal.


Are Antibiotics Prescribed for Pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis caused by bacteria needs antibiotic management, whereas pharyngitis with viral origin does not respond to antibiotic therapy. Viral pharyngitis usually resolves on its own within a few days with rest and fluid intake. It is advised to visit the doctor to identify the underlying cause of pharyngitis.


How Is the Test for Pharyngitis Done?

The doctor usually performs a rapid antigen detection test or throat culture to rule out the Streptococcus-A bacterial infection to rule out pharyngitis. Throat swab or rapid strep test can also be performed to rule out bacterial pharyngitis.


What Cures a Sore Throat Fast?

A sore throat can be resolved immediately with antibiotics along with home remedies like salt water gargling, hot beverages like herbal tea, and lozenges can help to treat sore throat. It is advised to rule out the exact cause of sore throat by reporting it to healthcare professionals so as needful management can be done.


Is Pharyngitis Similar to Strep Throat?

Pharyngitis is inflammation of the pharynx. Strep throat is a specific type of pharyngitis caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. It affects the mucous membrane lining the nose, throat, and mouth. Other symptoms of strep throat are fever, headaches, swollen tonsils, and difficulty in swallowing.


Is Pharyngitis Contagious Without a Fever?

Yes, pharyngitis occurs due to bacteria of the Streptococcus A group and presents with infection with or without fever as a symptom, but it can spread from one person to another through saliva or nasal secretions.


Can Throat Infection Involve the Ear?

Yes, throat infection in severe cases, or if not treated, tends to spread to the Eustachian tubes involving the middle ear. The symptoms that can be observed if a sore throat involves the ear are ear drainage, fever, ear pain, and hearing loss in severe cases.


Why Do Throat and Ear Pain Occur During Swallowing?

The throat and ears hurt while swallowing due to infection and swelling of the mucous membrane lining the nose and throat. In extreme or chronic cases, the infections involve the Eustachian tube and middle ear resulting in the tenderness of the ears.


How Can a Sore Throat Be Managed Before Sleeping?

Salt water gargles, throat sprays, and herbal tea can help to calm the throat before sleeping. It is advised to stay hydrated throughout the day to avoid sore throat before sleeping. Use of humidifiers or cool mist vaporizer in the bedroom helps to soothe the sore throat.


Why Sore Throats Worsens at Night?

Sore throat is worse at night due to increased post-nasal drip in lying down position. Excess mucus in the throat results in irritation and itching in the throat during sleeping. Dehydration is also one of the reasons that results in worsening of the sore throat at night.


What Food Should Be Avoided With a Sore Throat?

Foods like dairy products, high-fat foods like red meat, packed beverages, acidic food, and oily foods should be avoided if suffering from a sore throat. Beverages like carbonated and caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee and tea can also worsen the sore throat.


How Is Sore Throat Spread?

Sore throat or pharyngitis spreads from one infected person to another person through secretions like saliva, nasal secretions, respiratory droplets, and wound discharge from an infected person.


How Long Will the Sore Throat Last?

Sore throat or pharyngitis usually lasts for seven to ten days with proper pharmacotherapy and home remedies. However, the duration of the sore throat can vary depending on the underlying cause. Sore throat due to bacterial infections last longer and require a complete antibiotic course.


How to Reduce Swelling in the Throat?

Throat swelling or inflammation can be reduced by NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), lozenges, and salt water gargles. It is advised to visit the healthcare professional for ruling out the exact diagnosis of the underlying cause of swelling in the throat so that the needful treatment can be done.


Why Does the Throat Pains on One Side?

One side of the throat usually hurts due to several causes like swelling of the tonsils, post-nasal drip, acid reflux disease, and peritonsillar abscess. Other causes of throat pain on one side can be tonsillitis, tonsil stones, and strep throat,
Dr. Nikumbh Narendra Nandkumar
Dr. Nikumbh Narendra Nandkumar

General Practitioner


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