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What is a Throat Infection?

By R. Anacan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A throat infection is a general term describing a disease affecting the area of and surrounding the throat. Commonly known as a sore throat, this condition is most commonly caused by bacteria or viruses. It has been estimated that a throat infection is one of the top ten reasons that people visit emergency rooms for treatment.

When a virus or bacteria infects the throat, it causes a painful inflammation of the tissue in the throat area. This causes symptoms such as scratchiness of throat, redness and swelling of the throat, pain, hoarseness of the voice, coughing, and pain when swallowing. Other symptoms of a infection in the throat may include stuffy nose, runny nose, and redness of the eyes, headache and fever.

The majority of sore throats are caused by viral infections, and most of these typically run its course within three to six days. Viral infections are not treatable with antibiotics. However, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic treatment if the viral infection is also accompanied by a bacterial infection. Treatment for a sore throat caused by a virus generally consist of drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, and taking medication such as acetaminophen, and ibuprofen that help to provide relief from the symptoms of the infection.

Mononucleosis, also known as mono, is an example of an infection caused by a virus. Symptoms of mononucleosis include those listed above, along with fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. Unlike most common sore throats, symptoms of mononucleosis can linger for an extended period of time.

A patient with a bacterial infection may be prescribed antibiotics by his or her doctor. Bacteria are living microorganisms that can be killed through the use of antibiotics. Viruses cannot be killed with antibiotics because they are not living organisms, but rather a capsule of genetic material. While bacteria can reproduce and multiply on their own, viruses cannot. Viruses infect and take over a host cell, reprogramming the cell to reproduce the virus.

Antibiotics may help hasten recovery and reduce the period of time that the infected person is contagious to others. In addition to any prescribed medications, many doctors will also recommend that a patient with a bacterial throat infection get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, gargle with warm salt water, and use a humidifier.

Strep throat is an example of a bacterial throat infection. It is known as strep throat because the bacteria that causes it is called streptococcus. While strep throat is not generally harmful, if left untreated it can lead to other conditions such as rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, and tonsillitis. When a doctor suspects that a patient may have strep throat, a rapid strep test, or a throat culture will be done to check for the presence of streptococcus. The rapid strep test is not as accurate as a throat culture, but results can be received within 15 minutes. In contrast, it can take up to two days to receive results from a throat culture.

A patient with a sore throat accompanied by a high fever and difficulty breathing or swallowing should contact a doctor right away. If a sore throat is accompanied with a low grade fever, a doctor should be contacted if symptoms do not get better within a day or two. It may also be a good idea to visit a doctor if an infection is not accompanied by other sinus symptoms, if it hurts to swallow liquids, or if throat pain lasts for more than a week.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon318189 — On Feb 06, 2013

The last 18 months have been very painful for me. I have been affected with a sinus infection. The symptoms are: redness inside my nose and my throat; swallowing inside my nose and throat; coughing; throat pain when I cough.

I applied various treatments but they have not helped me. What can I do?

By anon310619 — On Dec 25, 2012

Is it good to drink red wine with a throat infection?

By anon304341 — On Nov 19, 2012

I am only 11 and trying to solve a situation. I have a very sore throat with difficulty in swallowing, I get mini migraines constantly I get on and off ear aces when Ii talk and have a badly blocked nose. What should I do? P.S. I have already got my tonsils removed.

By anon202204 — On Aug 01, 2011

i have a throat infection. it's a very uncomfortable situation for me.

By anon166224 — On Apr 07, 2011

What medicine can we give for a four month old infant for hoarseness of the voice?

By anon165901 — On Apr 06, 2011

i have a sore throat. i cannot speak very well and it's hard for me to talk. what should i do? Please tell me.

By anon161663 — On Mar 21, 2011

i have throat pain this started in last weak.i take medicine but i have no relief. what can i do?

By anon152709 — On Feb 14, 2011

my throat has hurt badly for two days whenever I swallow anything.

it also hurts when i touch the junction from the outside. i have a little fever too. The doctor told me that i have a throat infection and gave me Zothran, but after a day, there is no improvement in my throat.

By anon143020 — On Jan 14, 2011

little white bumps is definitely strep!

By anon132878 — On Dec 08, 2010

I have a sore throat with difficulty in swallowing. to make it worse it is also making me feel as though I have ear and toothache. how should I go about its treatment? cmkt

By anon120583 — On Oct 21, 2010

I'm 10 and I have a throat infection and I can't eat or drink. It stinks!

By anon117826 — On Oct 11, 2010

my throat is itching every night. what can i do. I wash with salt water but it's not helping.

By anon113664 — On Sep 25, 2010

I am suffering from sore throat since last seven days and today is my fifth day of antibiotic course. it feels like it is reducing. I would like to know the reason of such sore throats.

By anon111336 — On Sep 16, 2010

I am suffering from sore throat since last seven days and today is my fifth day of antibiotic course. it feels like it is reducing. I would like to know the reason of such sore throats.

By anon106928 — On Aug 27, 2010

when you have little white bumps in the back of your throat and you eat and swallow, what is this.

By anon101591 — On Aug 04, 2010

I feel my throat dry and a little painful when I did not talk even just a little for three or four hours. And every morning I wake up and I spit and I see dried blood mixed with my saliva. What does that mean?

By InfoHopper — On Jul 14, 2010

@cmsmith10 - Tonsillitis is considered a throat infection and it is caused from the swelling of the tonsils. You can feel if your glands are swollen by placing your fingers where your throat meets your jaw. If you are unsure, always consult a doctor and make sure to get throat lozenges that taste like candy!

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 10, 2010

Is tonsillitis considered to be a throat infection?

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