Pharyngitis (throat infection)

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Pharyngitis is usually caused by an infection with a virus or bacterium. Most people with acute pharyngitis have a viral infection such as the common cold. The most common type of bacterial infection is Streptococcus (known as strep throat). Strep throat occurs most often in children.

Causes and Risk factors

There is no evidence that sore throats caused by a bacterial infection are more severe than those caused by a virus, or that they last any longer. Irritants and allergens can also inflame the linings of your throat and cause a persistent sore throat (chronic pharyngitis). In regions that have warm summers and cool winters, viral pharyngitis typically peaks during the winter and early spring. This is a time when people are more likely to gather in poorly ventilated rooms. The viruses that cause pharyngitis spread easily.

The viruses can spread through the air by hanging on to droplets from coughs and sneezes. They stick to unwashed hands that have been exposed to fluids from a sick persons nose or mouth.

In most people who are otherwise healthy, simple viral pharyngitis doesnt last long, goes away on its own and does not causes any long-term complications, although the short-term discomfort can be significant.

In cases of infectious pharyngitis that are not viral, the cause is almost always a bacterium -- usually a group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus, which causes what is commonly called strep throat.

Like viral pharyngitis, strep throat can spread quickly and easily within a community, especially during late winter and early spring.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Symptoms such as sore throat or fever can be treated with nonprescription pain relievers such as aspirin. Gargling with a half teaspoon of salt dissolved in a glass of warm water or using antiseptic lozenges or sprays may provide temporary relief.

Antibiotics are prescribed for pharyngitis caused by bacteria. These drugs are effective in killing bacteria, and certain other organisms, but not viruses.

If the diagnosis is strep throat, it is very important to continue the antibiotics for at least 10 to 14 days, even if sore throat and other symptoms subside, to assure that all the bacteria are eliminated. Strep infection can lead to rheumatic fever and damage to the heart valves.

Pharyngitis caused by viruses clears up on its own; antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, so treatment is aimed at easing symptoms. One should not smoke and alcohol intake should be curbed because smoke and alcohol irritate the throat.

Persistent pharyngitis caused by exposure to toxic fumes, air pollution, or industrial chemicals is treated by reducing or eliminating exposure to the noxious agents. ...