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Sore Throat Due to Inflammation  

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Definition  

A sore throat is the general name for two common conditions:

  • Pharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx (the back of the throat, including the back of the tongue)
  • Tonsillopharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx and the tonsils (soft tissue that makes up part of the throat's immune defenses)
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Causes  

Many things can cause a sore throat, such as:

  • Infection with a virus, such as the viruses that cause influenza (the flu) and the common cold
  • Infection with bacteria, such as the bacteria that cause strep throat
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Mucus from your sinuses that drains into your throat
  • Smoking
  • Breathing polluted air
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Hay fever or other allergies
  • Acid reflux from the stomach
  • Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils
  • Certain immune or inflammatory disorders
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Risk Factors  

Sore throats are more common in certain people. However, anyone can get a sore throat. Risk factors that may increase your chance of getting a sore throat include:

  • Age: children and teens, and people aged 65 or older
  • Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat, nose, or ears
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
  • Having hay fever or other allergies
  • Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as AIDS or cancer
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Symptoms  

Along with the sore throat, you may have other symptoms, such as:

  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
  • Hoarse voice
  • Red or irritated-looking throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • White patches on or near your tonsils
  • Runny nose or stuffy nose
  • Cough

When Should I Call My Doctor?  

Call your doctor if you:

  • Experience a worsening of your sore throat or the symptom lasts longer than you or your doctor expect
  • Have difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Have developed other symptoms, such as:
    • White patches on tonsils (may be a sign of strep throat)
    • Enlarged lymph nodes on your neck
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Earache
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Fever
    • Rash
    • Muscle or joint aches
    • Fatigue
    • Blood in saliva

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests calling your child's doctor if your child has a sore throat that continues through the day (no matter what other symptoms are present).

If you think you have an emergency, get medical care right away.

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Diagnosis  

Your doctor will do a physical exam. This involves looking closely at your mouth, throat, nose, ears, and the lymph nodes in your neck.

  • This physical exam may include:
    • Using a small instrument to look inside the nose, ears, and mouth
    • Gently touching the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck to check for swelling
    • Taking your temperature
  • The doctor will ask questions about:
    • Your family and medical history
    • Recent exposure to someone with strep throat or any other infection of the throat, nose, or ears
  • Other tests include:
    • Rapid strep test or throat culture—using a cotton swab to touch the back of the throat to check for strep throat
    • Blood tests —to identify some conditions that may be causing the sore throat
    • Mono spot test (if mononucleosis is suspected)
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Treatment  

Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may include:

Medications  

  • Antibiotics for strep throat
  • Drugs to reduce sore throat pain. These drugs include:
    • Ibuprofen
    • Acetaminophen
    • Note : Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye's syndrome . Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
  • Numbing throat spray for pain control
  • Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Throat lozenges
  • Corticosteroids if there is trouble breathing

Home Care  

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Gargle with warm saline several times a day.
  • Drink warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquids.
  • Avoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold air.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
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Prevention  

Here are ways to reduce your chance of getting a sore throat:

  • Wash your hands frequently. Do this especially after blowing your nose or after caring for a child with a sore throat.
  • If someone in your home has a sore throat, keep their eating utensils and drinking glasses separate from those of other family members. Wash these objects in hot, soapy water.
  • If a toddler with a sore throat has been sucking on toys, wash the toys in soap and water.
  • Immediately get rid of used tissues, and then wash your hands.
  • If you have hay fever or another respiratory allergy, see your doctor. Avoid the substance that causes your allergy.