Acute Pharyngitis

By Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel

What is acute pharyngitis?

In this article:

  • Knowing the basics
  • Identifying the symptoms
  • Determining the causes
  • Understanding the diagnosis & treatment
  • Treating the condition through lifestyle changes & home remedies

Acute pharyngitis is an inflammation of the back of the throat, generally causing pain and discomfort in the same region as well as difficulty in swallowing.

Acute pharyngitis is a very common condition, usually caused by a viral infection. In rare cases, the disease is caused by a bacterial infection. In most cases, it will disappear within a week, while in other cases, it can last longer and turn into a chronic sore throat.

Identifying the symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute pharyngitis?

Acute pharyngitis has many symptoms. Some common symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing or speaking
  • Swollen, sore glands in the neck or throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Hoarse voice
  • White or grey patches on the back of the throat

In normal circumstances, acute pharyngitis is caused by an underlying condition such as the common cold or flu. Similarly, a sore throat is also a characteristic symptom of acute pharyngitis. However, in some cases, it may be the only symptom.

Determining the causes

What causes acute pharyngitis?

Caused by similar symptoms as in colds and flu, it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. In addition, smoking (including vaping) and exposure to airborne irritants can also cause acute pharyngitis. However, in rare cases, this condition can be triggered by bacteria. 

Viral infection

Viral conditions that can lead to acute pharyngitis include:

  • Flu
  • Common cold
  • Measles
  • Chickenpox
  • Mononucleosis
  • Herpes simplex virus infection
  • Enterovirus infection

The viruses that cause these conditions are contagious and normally spread by discharge from the nose or mouth. Moreover, they can also be transmitted to a healthy person through physical contact from articles of clothing and sharing of objects, especially after said person touches their nose or mouth. Acute pharyngitis is sometimes also linked to human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV).

Bacterial infections, such as strep throat

Some bacterial infections can also cause acute pharyngitis, most commonly Streptococcal bacteria, which is also known as Group A streptococcal. Group B streptococcus is not usually associated with strep throat or other respiratory tract infections. However, Group B can still cause acute pharyngitis, tonsillitis and swollen lymph glands in the neck.

Understanding the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided herein is not a substitute for any medical advice. Therefore, ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is acute pharyngitis diagnosed?

A doctor usually diagnoses the condition through a physical exam, which includes:

  • Taking a closer look at the throat, ears and nasal passageway
  • Checking for swollen glands
  • Using a stethoscope to monitor breathing

Your doctor may also use a cotton swab to take a throat sample and test for the presence of bacteria should he/she suspect bacterial pharyngitis.

How is acute pharyngitis treated?

Most cases of acute pharyngitis will go away without treatment in a week. Antibiotics cannot treat pharyngitis caused by viral infections.

Moreover, in the case of bacterial pharyngitis, antibiotics may be used but their effects are not apparent and they could introduce some side effects.

To decide whether you need antibiotics, your doctor will check for the following signs:

  • Painful or tender glands in the neck
  • Pus from the tonsils
  • The absence of cough
  • Fever

To treat the condition with the use of home remedies, the following steps can be taken:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and dry throat, which can deteriorate the condition.
  • Ingest over-the-counter pain relievers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – to manage pain, headache, and fever.
  • Consume lozenges.

Is acute pharyngitis dangerous?

Pharyngitis is usually harmless and will go away quickly without complications. However, in rare cases, it can progress and cause complications, such as an infection spreading from the throat to close proximity (e.g. ear infection, sinus infection or pneumonia). If symptoms persist or are particularly severe, you should see a doctor for appropriate treatment.

Treating the condition through lifestyle changes and home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me prevent acute pharyngitis?

Due to the contagious nature of the condition, some of the following habitual changes could help you prevent it from spreading:

  • Firstly, avoid the sharing of utensils, food, or drinks.
  • Secondly, avoid physical contact with people experiencing the condition.
  • Third and most importantly, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing, or before and after eating.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: October 10, 2019 | Last Modified: October 29, 2019

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