Causes and Symptoms (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Sore throat, termed pharyngitis by medical practitioners, is a common cause of patient discomfort and visits to the doctor’s office. Though many people equate sore throat with strep throat, in reality there are many infectious and noninfectious causes of this symptom. Sore throat can even be a sign of disease in another part of the body. The sensation, which may be described by sufferers as scratchy, raw, tight, burning, or achy, may last from minutes to months, depending on the underlying cause, and may be accompanied by related complaints such as fever, runny nose, hoarseness, or difficulty swallowing.
Most sore throats are caused by infection in the upper respiratory tract, including the ears, nose, and sinuses as well as the throat and tonsils. Research has demonstrated that more than half of these infections are caused by common viruses. Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis, accounts for less than 10 percent. Most of the remainder are caused by various bacteria. Of the bacterial causes, strep, more specifically group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus pyogenes, is the most common pathogen (disease-causing organism). Additional bacterial causes include species of Staphylococcus, Hemophilus, Mycoplasma, non-group A streptococcus, and others. More rarely, fungi may account for a larger portion of throat infections in patients with weakened immune defenses.
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Treatment and Therapy (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
The treatments of noninfectious sore throat are as varied as the diagnoses themselves. The treatment of infectious sore throat depends on the underlying cause, ranging from rest, fluids, and analgesics (painkillers) for viruses to antibiotics for certain bacteria and fungi. Penicillin has been the mainstay of strep throat treatment since the mid-twentieth century. Before the discovery of penicillin, throat infection sometimes resulted in serious complications, such as rheumatic fever (which damages the heart valves) and glomerulonephritis (which damages the kidneys). Although group A Streptococcus pyogenes has remained remarkably sensitive to penicillin, reports have suggested that the treatment of strep throat is becoming more complex. The presence of other bacteria in the throat, some of which have developed the ability to inactivate penicillin, may actually protect the strep bacteria from the antibiotic. Interestingly, some research suggests that antibiotic treatment very early in the course of disease may even increase the likelihood of subsequent recurrence. Infections by bacteria other than strep or by fungi are treated with other antibiotic and antifungal drugs.
Given this scenario, one may wonder why doctors do not treat everyone with antibiotics, rather than going to the trouble and expense of diagnosing strep throat. Antibiotic treatment is complicated by many factors, including cost, drug...
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For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Coutts, Cherylann. “A New Way to Treat Tonsil Trouble.” Parenting 14, no. 10 (December, 2000/January, 2001): 33. If a child’s physician determines that a tonsillectomy is required, a promising new procedure may be used. It uses radio-frequency energy to shrink tonsils, allowing for less pain and a much speedier recovery.
Evans, Julie A. “Thirteen Old-Fashioned Cold Remedies That Really Work!” Prevention 52, no. 11 (November, 2000): 106-113. Argues that good science is behind homemade elixirs for sniffles, sneezes, and other woes. Old-fashioned cold remedies, like honey and lemon for sore throats and chicken soup for a stuffy head, are discussed.
Ferrari, Mario. PDxMD Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders. Philadelphia: PDxMD, 2003. A clinical yet accessible reference text that provides a comprehensive list of disorders, with a summary of the condition, background, diagnosis, treatment, outcomes, prevention, and resources.
Kemper, Kathi J. The Holistic Pediatrician: A Pediatrician’s Comprehensive Guide to Safe and Effective Therapies for the Twenty-five Most Common Ailments of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Rev. ed. New York: Quill, 2002. Integrates mainstream and alternative medicine to aid parents in dealing with the most common childhood health problems, such as fever, diaper rash, sore throats, ear infections, and allergies.
Kimball, Chad T....
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Sore Throat (Encyclopedia of Medicine)
Sore throat, also called pharyngitis, is a painful inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the pharynx. It is a symptom of many conditions, but most often is associated with colds or influenza. Sore throat may be caused by either viral or bacterial infections or environmental conditions. Most sore throats heal without complications, but they should not be ignored because some develop into serious illnesses.
Almost everyone gets a sore throat at one time or another, although children in child care or grade school have them more often than adolescents and adults. Sore throats are most common during the winter months when upper respiratory infections (colds) are more frequent.
Sore throats can be either acute or chronic. Acute sore throats are the more common. They appear suddenly and last from three to about seven days. A chronic sore throat lasts much longer and is a symptom of an unresolved underlying condition or disease, such as a sinus infection.
Causes and symptoms
Sore throats have many different causes, and may or may not be accompanied by cold symptoms, fever,or swollen lymph glands. Proper treatment depends on understanding the cause of the sore throat.
Viral sore throat...
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Sore Throat (Encyclopedia of Children's Health)
Sore throat is a painful inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the pharynx.
Sore throat is also called pharyngitis. It is a symptom of many conditions, but is most often associated with colds or influenza. Sore throat may be caused by either viral or bacterial infections or environmental conditions. Most sore throats heal without complications, but they should not be ignored, as some develop into serious illnesses.
Sore throats can be either acute or chronic. Acute sore throats are more common than chronic sore throats. They appear suddenly and last from three to about seven days. A chronic sore throat lasts much longer and is a symptom of an unresolved underlying condition or disease, such as a sinus infection.
The way in which a sore throat is transmitted depends on the agent causing the sore throat. Viral and bacterial sore throats are usually passed in the same way as the common cold: sneezing, coughing, sharing drinking glasses or silverware, or in any other way germ particles can easily move from one person to another. Some sore throats are caused by environmental factors or...
(The entire section is 2351 words.)
Sore Throat (Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine)
Sore throat, also called pharyngitis, is a painful inflammation of the back of the throat. It is a symptom of many conditions, but most often is associated with colds or influenza. Sore throat may be caused by either viral or bacterial infections or by environmental conditions. Most sore throats heal without complications, but they should not be ignored because some develop into serious illnesses.
Almost everyone gets a sore throat at one time or another, although children in child care or grade school have them more often than adolescents and adults. Sore throats are most common during the winter months when upper respiratory infections (colds) and influenza are more frequent.
Sore throats can be either acute or chronic. Acute sore throats are the more common. They may appear suddenly and last approximately three to about seven days. A chronic sore throat that is still present after three weeks may be a symptom of an unresolved underlying condition or disease, such as a sinus infection or mononucleosis.
Causes & symptoms
Sore throats have many different causes, and may or may not be accompanied by cold symptoms, fever, or swollen lymph glands. Proper treatment depends on identifying the cause....
(The entire section is 2045 words.)
Sore Throat (Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health)
Sore throat is an upper respiratory infection that may be caused by inflammation of the pharynx, larynx, or tonsils. Thus, it is a symptom of many conditions, but most often is associated with common cold or influenza. Sore throat may be caused by either a virus or bacteria in addition to certain environmental conditions. Most sore throats heal without complications, but they should not be ignored because some develop into serious illnesses.
Almost everyone gets a sore throat at one time or another. Sore throat and cold are more prevalent among children in daycare centers or schools and seem to be related to their lack of resistance as compared to the adolescents and adults. It is interesting to note that women in the age of 200 are affected by more cold attacks than men, which may be attributed to their contact with children. Sore throats are most common during the winter months when upper respiratory infections (colds) are more frequent. The National Center for Health Statistics has estimated that common cold symptoms (which include sore throat) amounted to 62 million cases, in 1996, that needed medical attention.
Sore throats can be either acute or chronic. Acute sore throats are more common. They last from three to seven days. A chronic sore throat lasts much longer and is a symptom of an unresolved underlying condition or disease, such as a sinus infection.
Causes and symptoms
Sore throats have many different causes, and may or may not be accompanied by cold symptoms, fever, or swollen lymph glands. Proper treatment depends on understanding the cause of the sore throat.
Viral sore throat
Viruses cause 90-95% of all sore throats. Cold and flu viruses are the main culprits although about 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of sore throat. Rhinoviruses cause 30-35% of all adult colds in fall, spring, and summer. Coronaviruses cause the infections in winter and spring. These viruses cause an inflammation in the throat and occasionally the tonsils (tonsillitis). The causative agents of viral tonsillitis are Epstein-Barr virus, influenza virus, enterovirus, or adenoviruses. Cold symptoms almost always accompany a viral sore throat. These can include a runny nose, cough, congestion, hoarseness, conjunctivitis, and fever. The level of throat pain varies from uncomfortable to excruciating, when it is painful for the patient to eat, breathe, swallow, or speak.
Another group of viruses that cause sore throat are the adenoviruses. These may also cause infections of the lungs and ears. In addition to a sore throat, symptoms that accompany an adenovirus infection include cough, runny nose, white bumps on the tonsils and throat, mild diarrhea, vomiting, and a rash. The sore throat lasts about one week.
A third type of virus that can cause severe sore throat is the coxsackie virus. It can cause a disease called herpangina. Although anyone can get herpangina, it is most common in children up to age ten and is more prevalent in the summer or early autumn. Herpangina is sometimes called summer sore throat.
Three to six days after being exposed to the virus, an infected person develops a sudden sore throat that is accompanied by a substantial fever usually between 102-104°F (38.9-40°C). Tiny grayish-white blisters form on the throat that turn into ulcerative lesions. Throat pain is often severe, interfering with swallowing. Children may become dehydrated if they are reluctant to eat or drink because of the pain. In addition, people with herpangina may vomit, have abdominal pain, and generally feel ill and miserable.
One other common cause of a viral sore throat is mononucleosis. An estimated 90% of mononucleosis cases are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), while the remaining cases may be attributed to the cytomegalovirus. EBV is known to infect B lymphocytes (a subset of white blood cells). The infection spreads to the lymphatic system, respiratory system, liver, spleen, throat and salivary glands. Symptoms appear 30-50 days after exposure.
Mononucleosis, sometimes called the "kissing disease," is extremely common. It is estimated that by the age of 35-40, 80-95% of Americans will have had mononucleosis. Often, symptoms are mild, especially in young children, and are diagnosed as a cold. Since symptoms are more severe in adolescents and adults, more cases are diagnosed as mononucleosis in this age group. One of the main symptoms of mononucleosis is severe sore throat.
Although a runny nose and cough are much more likely to accompany a sore throat caused by a virus than one caused by a bacteria, there is no absolute way to tell what is causing the sore throat without a laboratory test. Viral sore throats are contagious and are passed directly from person to person by coughing and sneezing.
Bacterial sore throat
About 5-10% of sore throats are caused by bacteria. The most common bacterial sore throat results from an infection by group A Streptococcus. This type of infection is commonly called strep throat. Anyone can get strep throat, This organism may also cause laryngitis, which is predominantly marked by hoarseness of voice, sore throat, dry and persistent cough, and fever. Yet another ailment caused by Streptococcus is pharyngitis, which is inflammation of pharynx leading to fever, tenderness in the neck glands, sore throat, abdominal pain, headache, cough, hoarseness, and skin rash. Other bacteria that are known to cause pharyngitis are groups C and G Streptococcus, Yersinia enterocolitica, and rarely Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Untreated streptococcal pharyngitis may lead to peritonsillar abscess that is accompanied by severe sore throat and hoarseness of voice. In these cases, immediate intervention by otolaryngologists is required to aspirate the abscess.
Pharyngeal gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted bacterial disease, causes severe sore throat. Gonorrhea in the throat is transmitted by having oral sex with an infected person.
Noninfectious sore throat
Not all sore throats are caused by infection. Postnasal drip can irritate the throat and make it sore. It can be caused by hay fever and other allergies that are irritating to the sinuses. Environmental and other conditions, such as heavy smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, heavy alcohol consumption, breathing polluted air or chemical fumes, or swallowing substances that burn or scratch the throat can also cause pharyngitis. Dry air, like that in airplanes or from forced hot air furnaces, can make the throat sore. People who breathe through their mouths at night because of nasal congestion often get sore throats that improve as the day progresses. Sore throat caused by environmental conditions is not contagious.
It is easy for people to tell if they have a sore throat, but difficult to know what has caused it without laboratory tests. Most sore throats are minor and heal without any complications. A small number of bacterial sore throats do develop into serious diseases. Because of this, it is advisable to see a doctor if a sore throat lasts more than a few days or is accompanied by fever, nausea, or abdominal pain.
Diagnosis of a sore throat begins with a physical examination of the throat and chest. The examiner will also look for signs of other illness, such as a sinus infection or bronchitis. Since both bacterial and viral sore throat are contagious and pass easily from person to person, the health care provider will seek information about whether the patient has been around other people with flu, sore throat, colds, or strep throat. If it appears that the patient may have strep throat, laboratory Tests will be performed.
If mononucleosis is suspected, the doctor may do a mono spot test to look for antibodies indicating the presence of the Epstein-Barr virus. The test in inexpensive, takes only a few minutes, and can be done in a physician's office. An inexpensive blood test can also determine increased lymphocytes and the presence of specific antibodies to the mononucleosis virus.
Effective treatment varies depending on the cause of the sore throat. As frustrating as it may be to the patient, viral sore throat is best left to run its course without drug treatment. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. They do not shorten the length of the illness, nor do they lessen the symptoms.
Sore throat caused by a streptococci or another bacteria must be treated with antibiotics. Penicillin is the preferred medication. Oral penicillin must be taken for ten days. Patients need to take the entire course of antibiotic prescribed, even after symptoms of the sore throat improve. Incomplete treatment may lead to the relapse of the symptoms. Occasionally a single intramuscular injection of long-acting penicillin G is administered instead of ten days of oral treatment. In cases of penicillin allergy, cephalexin, cefuroxime, or cefprozil are the preferred alternative antibiotics that are recommended. These medications generally cost under fifteen dollars.
Mononucleosis, being a viral infection, is self-limiting with no means of therapeutic control. Rest, a healthy diet, plenty of fluids, avoiding strenuous exercises and competitive sports are recommended. The acute phase of infection is treated with acetaminophen (Datril, Tylenol, Panadol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, Motrin, Medipren). Nearly 90% of mononucleosis infections are mild. The infected person does not normally get the disease again.
In the case of chronic sore throat, it is necessary to treat the underlying disease to heal the sore throat. If sore throat is caused by environmental factors, the aggravating stimulus should be eliminated from the sufferer's environment.
Home care for sore throat
Regardless of the cause of a sore throat, there are some home care steps that can be taken to ease discomfort. These include:
- Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Aspirin should not be given to children because of its association with increased risk for Reye's syndrome, a serious disease.
- Gargling with warm double strength tea or warm salt water made by adding one teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of water.
- Drinking plenty of fluids, but avoiding acid juices like orange juice, which can irritate the throat. Sucking on popsicles is a good way to get fluids into children.
- Eating soft, nutritious foods like noodle soup and avoiding spicy foods.
- Refraining from smoking.
- Resting until the fever is gone, then resuming strenuous activities gradually.
- Often minimizing the dryness by using room humidifier may improve the symptoms of sore throat, especially in pediatric population.
- Antiseptic lozenges and sprays may aggravate the sore throat rather than improve it.
Alternative treatment focuses on easing the symptoms of sore throat using herbs and botanical medicines.
- Aromatherapists recommend inhaling the fragrances of essential oils of lavender (Lavandula officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), eucalyptus (Eycalyptus globulus), sage (Salvia officinalis), and sandalwood.
- Ayurvedic practitioners suggest gargling with a mixture of water, salt, and turmeric (Curcuma longa) powder or astringents such as alum, sumac, sage, and bayberry (Myrica spp.).
- Herbalists recommend taking osha root (Ligusticum porteri) internally for infection or drinking ginger (Zingiber officinale), slippery elm (Ulmus fulva), sage or marshmallow tea for pain. Also fresh juice of Echinacea along with the root of goldenseal may have a soothing effect on the throat. The tannins found in blueberries, blackberries and red raspberries have also been shown to be effective for sore throats
- Homeopaths may treat sore throats with superdilute solutions of Lachesis, Belladonna, Phytolacca, or yellow jasmine (Gelsemium).
- Nutritional recommendations include zinc lozenges every two hours along with vitamin C with bioflavonoids, vitamin A, and beta-carotene supplements.
Antigen foreign protein to which the body reacts by making antibodies.
Conjunctivitisn inflammation of the membrane surrounding the eye; also known as pink-eye.
Lymphocyte type of white blood cell. Lymphocytes play an important role in fighting disease.
Pharynxhe pharynx is the part of the throat that lies between the mouth and the larynx or voice box.
Tonsilsleshy tissues located on either side of the back of the throat.
Toxin poison. In the case of scarlet fever, the toxin is secreted as a byproduct of the growth of the streptococcus bacteria and causes a rash.
Sore throat caused by a viral infection generally clears up on its own within one week with no complications. The exception is mononucleosis. Ninety percent of cases of mononucleosis clear up without medical intervention or complications, so long as dehydration does not occur. In young children the symptoms may last only a week, but in adolescents the symptoms last longer. Adults over age 30 have the most severe and long lasting symptoms. Adults may take up to six months to recover. In all age groups fatigue and weakness may continue for up to six weeks after other symptoms disappear.
In rare cases of mononucleosis, breathing may be obstructed because of swollen tonsils, adenoids, and lymph glands. If this happens, the patient should immediately seek emergency medical care.
Patients with bacterial sore throat begin feeling better about 24 hours after starting antibiotics. If left untreated strep throat may lead to scarlet fever, rheumatic fever resulting in rheumatic heart disease or glomerulonephritis. Scarlet fever is a combination of sore throat with rash of sand paper consistency that may appear in the lower abdomen and gradually spread to the trunk. Rheumatic fever is marked by inflammation and pain in the joints. In severe cases, inflammation of the heart valves can lead to heart failure. Glomerulonephritis is inflammation of glomeruli that serve as filters in the kidney. The damaged filters result in red urine due to the release of red blood cells. The treatment for this disorder is aimed at controlling the symptoms. Taking antibiotics within the first week of a strep infection will prevent these complications. People with strep throat remain contagious until after they have been taking antibiotics for 24 hours.
Health care team roles
Sore throat may not always need medical intervention, but persistent sore throats and accompanying symptoms should not be ignored. A general physician helps in determining whether the sore throat is a result of a viral or bacterial infection. A thorough physical examination followed by laboratory tests in cases of a doubtful bacterial infection is performed. If a bacterial sore throat is diagnosed by the physician, antibiotics are prescribed. Health care professionals, including the pharmacists, play a key role in cautioning the patient regarding the potential allergic reactions associated with the intake of antibiotics. Some of these reactions may be serious and need immediate medical intervention.
There may be lingering symptoms or changes in the symptoms after visiting the doctor. Some of the concerns will be:
- persistent fever
- continuing and severe sore throat
- discomfort in opening the mouth wide
In such cases, a doctor's advice is highly recommended. In addition, health care professionals will provide the best resources for nutrition, suggestions for pain relievers and effective home remedies for viral sore throats.
There is no way to prevent a sore throat; however, the risk of getting one or passing one on to another person can be minimized by:
- Washing hands well and frequently.
- Avoiding close contact with someone who has a sore throat.
- Not sharing food and eating utensils with anyone.
- Cleaning the environmental surfaces with a disinfectant.
- Not smoking.
- Avoiding polluted air.
- Using a room humidifier at home during the winter months when the dryness is maximum.
- Avoiding exposures to sudden and frequent changes in temperatures (in winter, being exposed to severe cold outside and heated room within the home).
Cummings, Stephen and Dana Ullman. "Sore Throats." Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicine. Health World Online, <<a href="http://www.healthy.net">http://www.healthy.net>.
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, Vol. 1. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Common Cold Fact Sheet.<<a href="http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/cold.htm">http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/cold.htm>.March 26, 2001).
"Laryngitis." Virtual health fair. March 2000, <<a href="http://www.vfair.com/conditions/laryngitis.htm">http://www.vfair.com/conditions/laryngitis.htm>.
"Mononucleosis." Virtual health fair. <<a href="http://www.vfair.com/conditions/mononucleosis.htm">http://www.vfair.com/conditions/mononucleosis.htm>.(March 19, 2001).
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