Sore Throat (Pharyngitis): Overview, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Sore Throat Pharyngitis

Have you ever experienced a situation in which you find it difficult to swallow anything (even as little as your saliva)? If you have experienced this, you probably have what is known as Pharyngitis, which we commonly know as Sore throat.

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Sore throat, also known as Pharyngitis occurs when there is a viral infection that causes your throat to keep feeling itchy and dry. This pain often occurs within the esophagus (throat) and when you try swallowing.

This condition is one in which almost everyone has had, and it often occurs during the cold seasons. Although viruses mostly cause a sore throat, however, some can be as a result of a bacterial infection.

Mostly, the first sign that you may likely experience when having a sore throat or inflammation of the pharynx is that dry, itch that sometimes might be accompanied by pain.

According to research, during the cold season, almost 13 million cases around the world are as a result of sore throats.

What are the Causes of Sore throats

The causes of sore throats are numerous, and they range from injuries to infections. However, for the purpose of this article, the causes have been grouped into three main categories. They include:

1. The flu, cold and other viral infections

Sore throats are mostly caused by viruses. According to a research study, about 90% of all sore throat cases are caused by viruses. Viruses such as the influenza virus, the Epstein-Barr Virus, and so on causes some diseases that have sore throats as one of their symptoms.

Diseases such as mononucleosis, common cold, influenza (popularly known as the flu), measles which also presents with fever and rashes, chickenpox (an infection that causes bumpy rashes which are often very itchy), and mumps (which is an infection that causes the salivary glands around the neck to become inflamed) all have the presence of a sore throat as one of their symptoms.

Also, there is a not so common disease that is known as Croup. Croup is a childhood disease that is often characterized by a loud cough that may sometimes sound like a bark. This disease mostly affects less than 5% of children.

2. Strep throat and other bacteria infections

Although viral infections are one of the most common causes of sore throat, however, sore throats can also be as a result of a bacterial infection. Among the bacteria group that causes sore throat, one of them is widely known, and that is the Strep bacteria.

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Streptococcus bacteria often affects not only th throat but also the tonsils. Strep throat is usually caused by a particular group known as Group A Streptococcus bacteria(Streptococcus pyogenes).

In children, step throat causes more than 40% of all the Sore throat cases. Asides strep bacteria, tonsillitis as well as some sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can result in sore throat.

3. Allergies

Allergies occur when your body’s immune system starts to fight against anything it finds as a foreign body. When there is an allergy from specific triggers such as grass, pollen, wool, and sometimes pet dander(which are tiny droppings of animal skin), it results in the release of certain chemicals such as histamine.

These chemicals will result in some symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, as well as throat irritation. In some cases, excess mucus may even drip towards the back of the throat, causing the throat to become irritated.

This condition is known as Postnasal drip, and it mostly occurs in people who have allergies. When you have postnatal drippings, it causes the symptoms of your sore throat to increase, causing you more discomfort.

4. Smoke, chemicals as well as other irritants

Irritants and several environmental pollutants such as smoke for tobacco, and wood, or the ingestion of harmful chemicals can cause in the irritation of your throat.

Also, chewing some substances such as tobacco, drinking some alcoholic drinks, and eating hot, spicy foods may result in the development of chronic sore throat.

According to a research, after the September 11 twin bombing that happened in America, more than 62% of the firefighters (that had apparently been part of the first respondents on the scene of the incident) had frequently presented with severe cases of sore throats.

Before that World Trade Centre disaster that claimed thousands of lives, only about 3.2% of Americans had been recorded to have severe conditions of sore throats.

5. Inhalation of dry air

The normal air that we breathe has a certain percentage of water and moisture in it. Inhalation of dry air can cause your throat to feel dry and scratchy.

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This is because after inhaling dry air, the air needs moisture before getting into the lungs, so it tends to suck any form of moisture along the way, especially that which is present in the throat.

Once this happens, it causes the throat to become dry and itchy, leading to a sore throat. This condition often occurs during the winter months, and it is because the air during the months is dry.

During these months, it is best to avoid using the room heater always because one of the sources of Dry air is from the room heater.

6. Injuries

Any trauma or wounds such as a cut to the neck or a severe hit to the neck can result in intense pains in the neck. Injuries in your throat may cause you to find it immensely difficult for you to swallow, causing food to be stuck in your throat.

Once food becomes stuck in your throat, it causes your throat to become irritated. If you keep struggling to get food down, it can lead to a strain in the muscles, and the vocal cords present within your neck region.

It is possible for you to also develop sore throats after yelling, singing, or talking loudly for an extended period. Sore throat is a common problem that is experienced by teachers and fitness instructors, and this is due to the nature of their job(as they tend to shout a lot).

7. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known as GERD, is a peculiar condition in which the gastroesophageal sphincter becomes faulty, and acid from the stomach enters into the esophagus (which is the tube that passes food from the mouth to the stomach).

Generally, the pH condition of the esophagus is alkaline, and as such, once acid enters into the tube and invariably the throat, it tends to cause sore throat.

Other symptoms that you may experience if you have GERD include heart burns, regurgitation of stomach contents back into the esophagus, development of lumps in the throat, as well as hoarseness of your voice.

8. Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is said to occur when your tonsils become inflamed. Once this happens, it causes your throat becomes sore and painful, and you will also experience difficulties in swallowing.

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However, this condition is not a common cause of sore throat.

9. Tumor

The presence of a growth or tumor in the throat or the voice box or on the tongue doesn’t usually cause sore throats. However, if the tumor becomes cancerous, then the throat may become affected, resulting in the development of a sore throat.

10. HIV

Having the Human Immunodeficiency Virus(HIV) compromises your immune system. Once your immune system is compromised, then your body becomes susceptible to being infected with even the smallest of microbes.

During the early stages of HIV, it is possible for you to experience flu-like symptoms and a Sore throat.

Once you have HIV, you may realize that due to your already compromised immune system, you may frequently experience chronic sore throats due to a fungal infection known as oral thrush or due to the presence of a virus known as Cytomegalovirus (CMV).

Symptoms of sore throat

Sore Throat Pharyngitis

Mostly, the symptoms of sore throats largely depend on what causes it. The common symptoms you will experience includes:

  1. Itchiness: Your throat will feel very itchy when you have sore throats.
  2. Burning sensations: Sometimes, it may feel like parts of your throat is burning up whenever you have sore throats.
  3. Your throat will feel raw and parched.
  4. You may experience irritations.
  5. Your throat may feel very tender to touch. Most times, you will experience this tenderness when swallowing.
  6. Difficulty in swallowing
  7. Severe pains when talking
  8. Redness of the tonsils
  9. Presence of white patches or pus on the tonsils. Mostly this symptom often indicates that your sore throat is due to the presence of the Group A bacteria and not because of a virus.
  10. Nasal congestion.
  11. Cold symptoms such as running nose, cough, sneezing, and fever.
  12. Presence of swollen glands on the neck.
  13. Hoarseness of your voice.
  14. Severe body pains.
  15. Severe headaches.
  16. Trouble swallowing.
  17. Loss of appetite.
  18. Stomach aches.

Risk factors

Although it is possible for anyone to develop sore throats, however, certain factors can put you more at risk, and these factors include:

1. Age

According to research, about 70% of people who present with a sore throat are children and teens. Children who are between the ages of 3-15 years of age are more susceptible to developing strep throat.

2. Exposure to Tobacco

Severe exposures to tobacco either by inhalation of the smoke or by actual smoking, can result in the irritation of the throat leading to a sore throat.

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Asides the development of sore throat, smoking tobacco, and taking tobacco related products will increase your risk of developing mouth cancers, as well as cancers of the throat and the larynx.

3. Allergies

If you know you have allergies and continually allow yourself to be exposed to them, you are at risk of developing sore throats.

4. Exposure to chemical irritants

Particles that are gotten from the burning of fossil fuel, as well as everyday household products, can result in the development of sore throats.

5. Frequent sinus infections

When you always experience drainage from your sinuses or postnasal drippings, it can result in the development of sore throat as well as the spread of sinus infections.

6. Close quarters

Having people, especially children in a clustered environment, increases the risk of the spread of both bacterial and viral infections. Some of these infections may lead to the development of sore throats.

7. Weakened or compromised immune systems

If your immune system is weak or has been compromised due to the presence of an immune virus such as HIV or due to specific treatments(such as chemotherapy and so on), you will become susceptible to infection, including bacterial and viral infections, which can cause sore throats to occur.

Treatment

Usually, sore throats don’t need any treatment as they tend to resolve themselves. However, there are some steps you may need to take if your sore throat doesn’t resolve itself. They include:

1. Home remedies

Most times, if you have a sore throat, you may be advised to carry out the following steps:

  • Gargle or cleanse your mouth with half or one teaspoon of salt as well as warm water every morning.
  • Always take warm liquids in order to soothe your throat. Liquids such as warm tea and honey, warm water with lemon, or soup broth are usually encouraged. In some cases, herbal teas are explicitly required to help heal your throat.
  • Try to take refreshing drinks that are soothing to your throat as well. Taking of cold ice-cream or a popsicle can help treat your sore throat. However, it should be taken in moderation.
  • When inside, turn on your cool mist humidifier. This will help you add moisture to your air as well as suck out the bad air and pollutants.
  • Until you feel better, ensure that there is no more shouting, talking loudly, screaming, or straining your throat muscles. This is the period for you to rest your voice.

2. Use of drugs

Most sore throats usually resolve themselves within days or weeks. However, if you have a bacterial infection, especially the Group A Streptococcus, you may need the use of antibiotics to help kill the bacteria.

Alongside the use of drugs, you are still required to rest yourself and relax your blood properly.

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Prevention

The best way to avoid having sore throats is by effectively reducing the number of germs and microbes that enter into your body. What better way for you to do that than to practice good hygiene?

To effectively prevent having sore throats, you must know and learn to do the following hygiene as well as teach your kids to know them.

  1. Wash your hands: It is essential for you to wash your hands all the time and also thoroughly. It is very necessary and hygienic to wash your hands after using the toilet, before you eat, sneezing or coughing, or after touching dirty surfaces.
  2. Avoid sharing feeding utensils, drinking mugs, and glasses, as well as food, especially with people who aren’t close family members.
  3. When coughing or sneezing, ensure that tissue is nearby and you use them. After coughing or sneezing, throw the used tissue into the refuse bin. If you don’t have a tissue nearby, then ensure that you sneeze into your elbow.
  4. Use alcohol-based sanitizers: Especially during this period, the importance of hand sanitizers can’t be over-emphasized. If there are no hand sanitizers, soap and water can be used as a ready alternative.
  5. Avoid touching your mouth with public phones, drinking fountains, or unclean utensils.
  6. Always ensure that you clean the back of your phones, your T.V remotes, your computer keyboards, and all other surfaces that may come in contact with your mouth. It is very important you do this often, especially if you have a toddler or children around the house.
  7. It is also important that you avoid people who are sick because it is easy to contact micro-organisms that can result in you having a sore throat. If you can’t avoid them, you can better protect yourself by wearing disposable face masks and hand gloves.

In conclusion, although sore throats, also known as Pharyngitis, is a common infection, it can also be easily contacted. It is important that you know how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

References;

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker