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What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis is swelling of the inside of your throat, called the pharynx.

What causes pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis is often caused by a cold or flu virus. It may also be caused by bacteria such as strep. Other causes include smoking, allergies, or acid reflux. Pharyngitis can also be caused by a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as herpes or gonorrhea. This may occur from oral sex with an infected person.

What signs and symptoms may occur with pharyngitis?

  • Sore throat or pain when you swallow
  • Fever, chills, and body aches
  • Hoarse or raspy voice
  • Cough, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach and loss of appetite
  • Mild neck stiffness
  • Swollen glands that feel like hard lumps when you touch your neck
  • White and yellow pus-filled blisters in the back of your throat

How is pharyngitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your sore throat and examine you. He may look inside your throat and feel your neck. You may also need the following tests:

  • A throat culture may show which germ is causing your sore throat. A cotton swab is rubbed against the back of your throat.

  • Blood tests may be used to show if another medical condition is causing your sore throat.

How is pharyngitis treated?

Viral pharyngitis will go away on its own without treatment. You will need antibiotics if your sore throat is caused by bacteria. Your sore throat should start to feel better within 3 to 5 days for both viral and bacterial infections. Your healthcare provider may recommend the following to decrease pain:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

How can I manage my pharyngitis?

  • Gargle salt water. Mix ¼ teaspoon salt in a glass of warm water and gargle. This may help reduce swelling in your throat.
  • Drink more liquids. Cold or warm drinks may help soothe your sore throat. Drinking liquids can also help prevent dehydration.
  • Humidify your room. Use a cool-steam humidifier to help moisten the air in your room and calm your cough.
  • Soothe your throat. Cough drops, ice, soft foods, or popsicles may help soothe your throat.
  • Rest your throat as much as possible. Try not to use your voice. This may irritate your throat and worsen your symptoms.
  • Prevent the spread of germs. Pharyngitis spreads easily from one person to another. Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Do not share food or drinks. This will help prevent the spread of germs.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing because your throat is swollen or sore.
  • You are drooling because it hurts too much to swallow.
  • You have a painful lump in your throat that does not go away after 5 days.
  • Your fever is higher than 102˚F (39˚C) or lasts longer than 3 days. This may be a sign of a more serious infection.
  • You have confusion.
  • You have blood in your throat or ear.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your throat pain gets worse.
  • Your symptoms do not improve after 5 days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.