Causes and Treatment Methods
Viral illnesses and bacterial infections may lead to a throat infection (pharyngitis). While most throat infections will last no longer than a week or two, some throat infections can lead to more serious complications if they are left untreated. This is especially true in children, since young children have less developed immune systems.
Common Causes of Viral Throat Infections
Viral illnesses such as the common cold can cause a throat infection to develop. Other viral illnesses that may lead to a throat infection include:
- Mononucleosis (commonly known as “mono”). Symptoms of mono may come and go, but usually resolve within a few weeks.
- Laryngitis (infection of the voice box). Usually caused by a cold or other common virus.
- Viral infections, including the common cold, influenza (the flu), mumps, measles, chickenpox, and croup.
Common causes of Bacterial Throat Infections
Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, may also cause throat infections. Examples of bacterial infections that may lead to a throat infection include:
- Tonsillitis. Infection or inflammation of the tonsils.
- Adenoiditis. Infection or inflammation of the adenoids.
- Uvulitis. Inflammation of the uvula.
- Epiglottitis. Inflammation of the epiglottis.
- Bacterial infections such as strep throat, whooping cough, or diphtheria.
There are rare cases in which a sexually transmitted disease, such as Chlamydia or gonorrhea, may cause a throat infection.
Symptoms of Throat Infections
Depending on the cause and the seriousness of the infection, one or several of the following symptoms may result:
- Throat pain
- Body aches
- Dry throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Mild to severe difficulty breathing
- White patches or pus at the back of the throat or covering the tonsils
- Enlarged tonsils, adenoids or lymph nodes
When to Seek Medical Attention
If the above symptoms persist after a few weeks or if they worsen over time, seek the guidance of an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist. Additionally, if you experience any of the following serious symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- Severe pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Fever higher than 101 °F
- Change in alertness or consciousness
- Joint pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe difficulty breathing
- Sudden swelling of throat or tongue
Diagnosis and Treatment
For a throat infection that does not respond to home remedies or that results in more serious symptoms, it is important to visit an ENT doctor. In most cases, a throat culture will be taken in order to determine the cause of the infection. Antibiotics are often prescribed if a bacterial infection is found. For example, amoxicillin and penicillin V are common antibiotics used to treat throat infections.
Conditions such as tonsillitis may require a procedure known as a tonsillectomy to be carried out. This relatively simply surgery removes the tonsils (or adenoids in the case of inflamed and/or infected adenoids) to prevent future infections.
There are other steps that you can take to speed up the healing process if you have developed a throat infection:
- Follow through with the medication and treatment regimen recommended by your doctor
- Avoid smoking, drinking caffeinated beverages or sugary beverages during recovery
- Drink plenty of water and herbal teas
- Gargle with salt water
- Use a humidifier if the air in your home is dry
- Get adequate sleep
While most throat infections will resolve themselves, or will respond to antibiotics, do not hesitate to contact your doctor is symptoms continue. If treatment is neglected for long periods of time, more serious conditions may develop such as rheumatic fever, abscesses, blockage of the airway or sepsis.