Pharyngitis is a sore throat caused by inflammation of the back of the throat. Your throat may be scratchy and swallowing can be painful. Usually a sore throat is the sign of another illness, such as a cold or the flu. It is one of the most common reasons for visits to family physicians. Unless you have a bacterial infection like strep throat, taking antibiotics does not help a sore throat. In fact, most sore throats go away on their own in less than a week.
The symptoms that accompany a sore throat can vary, depending on what's causing it.
Sore throat with cold:
Sore throat with flu:
Sore throat with mononucleosis:
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, although a few are due to bacterial infections. You can breathe in bacteria or a virus from air that has been contaminated when someone sneezes or coughs, or you can transfer the organisms to your mouth or nose by touching a surface with germs on them. Viruses that can cause sore throat include the common cold, the flu, and mononucleosis (often called "mono"). Bacteria like Group A streptococcus, commonly known as strep throat, can also cause pharyngitis. An estimated 30% of childhood pharyngitis is caused by Group A streptococcus.
Risk factors for pharyngitis include:
Your doctor will check your temperature and examine your throat, sinuses, ears, nose, lungs, and neck, including feeling for swollen lymph nodes that may indicate strep throat. He or she may take a throat culture or do a rapid strep test by taking a swab from your throat. Your provider may also order a blood test to check for mononucleosis.
If your doctor suspects that you have a sore throat caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, he or she will prescribe an antibiotic. But if your sore throat is caused by a virus, antibiotics won't help. It will go away on its own.
Cool air and humidity may help relieve symptoms. In the meantime, your doctor may recommend gargling with salt water and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Children under 19 should not take aspirin, because of the risk of a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Doctors commonly prescribe penicillin or, if you have an allergy to penicillin, erythromycin. In severe cases of group A streptococcus, a single dose of steroids may result in a faster onset of pain relief and reduced suffering.
Because supplements may have side effects or interact with medications, you should take them only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Be sure to talk to your physician about any supplements you are taking or considering taking.
There is not much scientific evidence about which supplements might help treat a sore throat, or reduce your chances of getting a cold of flu. However, a few supplements and nutrients may be helpful:
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care practitioner. Before giving any herbs to a child to treat a cold, talk to your pediatrician.
To prevent colds and flu:
There are not many scientific studies that have examined which herbs might work to treat sore throat. These herbs have been used traditionally to relieve sore throat pain:
Some people may find relief gargling these teas:
Few studies haved examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for sore throat based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
A sore throat usually goes away quickly on its own. If you have had a sore throat for more than a week, or you have a fever, swollen lymph nodes, or a rash, you should call your doctor right away. Fever, swollen lymph nodes, or a rash may indicate strep throat or a complication, such as rheumatic fever. Strep throat requires antibiotics to prevent complications such as:
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Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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