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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), herpangina, 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 children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of a sore throat include:

  • Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat or nose
  • 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 HIV infection or cancer
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Symptoms  

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

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

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
    • Rash
    • Fever
    • Earache
    • Lightheadedness
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • 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 goes on for more than 1 day (no matter what other symptoms are present).

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help 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