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Pharyngitis - Infection of the pharynx

What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis describes inflammation of the back of the throat, called the pharynx. It is basically a sore throat. However, it is different to laryngitis - when the voice box is inflamed - and tonsillitis - when the tonsils are swollen.

The pharynx/throat is a tube that leads from the mouth to the oesophagus (food pipe) and it helps with eating and breathing.

Pharyngitis causes

Pharyngitis is usually caused by a viral infection such as the common cold. Sometimes it is caused by a bacterial infection, for example by streptococcus bacteria, where in this case it may be referred to as 'strep throat'. However, in around a third of cases, no cause can be found.

Pharyngitis symptoms

As well as a sore throat people with pharyngitis may also have:

Pharyngitis treatments

Most sore throats get better on their own within 3 to 7 days. Antibiotics are not usually prescribed unless it's particularly severe or there is the risk of a more serious infection. If antibiotics are necessary it's because of a bacterial infection and you will usually be prescribed penicillin.

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can help relieve symptoms. Also:

  • Eat cool, soft food and have plenty of drinks that are cool or warm
  • Avoid smoke
  • Suck lozenges, hard sweets, ice cubes or ice lollies
  • Gargle regularly with a mouthwash of warm, salty water

Usually a doctor's appointment isn't necessary. However, a sore throat can be a symptom of another illness and you should seek medical advice if:

  • Symptoms don't improve after a week
  • You have a high temperature (above 38C/100.4F) which lasts for days and isn't reduced by medication
  • You have a weakened immune system due to another illness or drugs to treat another condition
  • You often have sore throats that do not respond to painkillers

Avoiding pharyngitis

Developing a sore throat may be unavoidable but you can reduce your risk by keeping away from people who are unwell and by maintaining good hygiene. This means frequently washing your hands and not sharing food, drink or utensils.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 04, 2017

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