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Sore throat

What is it?

Pharyngitis (fair-in-JI-tis) is an infection (in-FECK-shun) of the pharynx (FAIR-inks) that is commonly called "sore throat." The pharynx is the area between the tonsils and the larynx (LAIR-inks). The larynx is also called the voice box. This whole area is called the throat. Pharyngitis may be the first sign that you have an illness, like a cold or the flu.

Causes:

Pharyngitis is caused by a bacteria (bak-TEER-e-uh), a virus, or a fungus. It is spread from an infected person to others by coughing, sneezing, touching, or sharing food and drinks. It is easily spread in schools, daycare centers, work, and at home. You may be at higher risk of getting pharyngitis if you smoke, are very tired (run down), or have been in cold, wet weather.

Signs and Symptoms:

The following are signs and symptoms that you may have when you have pharyngitis:

  • Your throat feels raw and looks red or swollen.
  • You have a fever.
  • You feel like you have a lump in your throat.
  • Areas on one or both sides of your neck may feel tender and look swollen.
  • You have breathing, swallowing, or talking problems because your throat is sore.
  • You have an earache or you feel achy and tired.
  • You have whitish-yellow patches or blisters in the back of your throat.

Wellness Recommendations:

Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or share food or drinks with anyone. If you have frequent sore throats, decrease the stress in your life. Stress may increase the risk of infection.

Medical Care:

Your caregiver will look at your throat and may rub a cotton swab against the back of your throat. This is called a throat culture. A throat culture may help your caregiver learn which germ is causing the sore throat. You may also need to have blood drawn to check for germs in your blood.

  • If streptococcus (strep-toe-KAH-kus) bacteria is causing your sore throat, you have "strep throat." You will need antibiotic (an-tih-bi-AH-tik) medicine to treat the strep throat. If you have strep throat, other family members may also need to have a throat culture. You should feel better in about 24 hours if you are taking antibiotics for strep throat.
  • No special treatment is needed if a virus causes your sore throat. Antibiotic medicine does not help a viral sore throat. If your sore throat is caused by a virus, you should feel better in about 5 days. If your sore throat is caused by a fungus, you will need medicine to kill the fungus.
  • To help ease the pain in your throat, you should rest. Do not smoke while your throat hurts. Gargle with warm salt water or tea. Drink plenty of liquids to help your throat feel better.

Dietary Measures:

  • Drink 6 to 8 (soda pop can size) of liquids every day. This will keep your throat moist and also help you feel better.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.

Herbs:

  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Echinacea (Echinacea purpura) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Myrrh (Commiphora molmol) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Usnea (Usnea barbata) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.

Supplements:

  • Propolis has been used, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Vitamin C has been used, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.
  • Zinc lozenges has been used, but has not been studied in people with sore throats.

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat your sore throat.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You have a very bad headache.
  • You cough up green, yellow, brown, or bloody sputum.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.

SEEK CARE IMMEDIATELY IF:

  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • You have very bad throat pain or are drooling.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

References:

1. Cohen S, Doyle WJ & Skoner DP: Psychological stress, cytokine production, and severity of upper respiratory illness. Psychosom Med 1999; 61(2):175-180.

2. Sanchez A, Reeser JL, Lau HS et al: Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr 1973; 26:1180-1184.


Last Updated: 4/4/2014

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