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Pharyngitis (a sore throat) can last for a short or long period of time, depending on the cause. The two most common causes of this symptom are viruses and bacteria. If the cause is bacterial, treatment may include medications such as antibiotics. For viral infections, your immune system will typically cure the infection, and there are some home remedies that may be useful in reducing discomfort.

What Is Pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis is the medical term for a sore throat. It is a frequent symptom of the common cold or other upper respiratory infections. This condition often makes it painful to swallow. It can also make the throat feel dry and scratchy.
Pharyngitis is one of the most common reasons that people go to their healthcare provider. Acute pharyngitis is a sore throat that has lasted for a brief period of time. Chronic pharyngitis is the diagnosis for a sore throat is long-lasting or recurrent.

Causes and Symptoms

The two most common reasons for pharyngitis are an infection with either a virus (the most common) or bacteria. Strep throat is the most common bacterial cause of pharyngitis. It is caused by group A streptococcus (GAS, Streptococcus pyogenes). Up to 30 percent of children and 10 percent of adults who seek medical treatment for pharyngitis are diagnosed with strep throat.
Strep throat symptoms usually begin suddenly and can include:
  • A fever above 101ºF (38.3ºC)
  • Red and enlarged tonsils
  • Tender or swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • No signs of a viral infection (such as a cough, runny nose, or irritation of the eyes).
Viruses are thought to cause more than 50 percent of throat infections. The most common viruses to cause pharyngitis are the same ones that cause upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu. This is why it is common for a person with pharyngitis to also have a cough, runny nose, nasal congestion, hoarseness, and/or redness or irritation of the eyes (pink eye).
Other, less-common viral causes of pharyngitis include Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of mononucleosis) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
There are other reasons someone may get pharyngitis. A few of these include:
  • Allergies
  • Dry air
  • Pollution
  • Irritants, including tobacco smoke.
(Click Sore Throat Causes or Sore Throat Symptoms for more information on either of these topics.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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