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Get to the Bottom of Your Sore Throat
Sore throat, also called pharyngitis, is the inflammation of the pharynx (throat). The throat extends from the nasal passages above and behind the mouth to the esophagus (tube that carries food to the stomach) in the neck. Sore throat occurs most commonly with a viral upper respiratory infection (URI).
Pain in the throat is also symptomatic of a number of diseases, including:
- mononucleosis caused by Epstein-Barr virus,
- gonorrhea, and
- acute HIV infection.
Symptoms of Sore Throat
Symptoms of a sore throat may vary depending on the cause. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat
- Pain that worsens with swallowing or talking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry throat
- Sore, swollen glands in your neck or jaw
- Swollen, red tonsils
- White patches or pus on your tonsils
- Hoarse or muffled voice
Common infections causing a sore throat may result in other signs and symptoms, as well. They may include:
- Runny nose
- Body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
Incidence and Prevalence of Sore Throat
Approximately 40 to 60 percent of cases of sore throat are caused by a virus and about 15 percent are associated with Streptococcus infection (strep throat).
In the United States, children typically average five sore throats per year and Streptococcus infection every 4 years. Adults typically experience two sore throats per year and Streptococcus infection approximately every 8 years.
The incidence worldwide is higher, possibly because of resistance to antibiotics caused by over-prescription. Sore throat is more prevalent in winter, when respiratory disease incidence is highest. The incidence of pharyngitis and strep throat is highest in children between the ages of 5 and 18. Sore throat is rare in children younger than 3 years old.
Causes of Sore Throat
Most sore throats are caused by viruses that cause the common cold and flu (influenza). Less often, sore throats are due to bacterial infections.
Viral illnesses that cause a sore throat include:
- Common cold
- Flu (influenza)
- Mononucleosis (mono)
- Croup a common childhood illness characterized by a harsh, barking cough
Bacterial infections that can cause a sore throat include:
- Strep throat, which is caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus
- Whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory tract infection
- Diphtheria, a serious respiratory illness that’s rare in industrialized nations, but is more common in developing countries