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What is Acute Pharyngitis?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Acute pharyngitis is the medical term for throat inflammation. Most cases are caused by common viruses and bacteria in the respiratory tract, but fungi, irritating chemicals, and allergy-inducing foods can also lead to symptoms. Acute pharyngitis typically results in a sore, dry throat and a hoarse voice. Home remedies and and a few days of rest are usually enough to get over pharyngitis, but a person who has an especially severe or persistent throat problem should visit a doctor to learn about treatment options.

Many different viruses can cause pharyngitis, including adenovirus, Epstein-Barr, and herpes simplex. Streptococcus is the most common bacterial throat infection, especially in young children and people with weakened immune systems. Acute pharyngitis can also occur in absence of infection if a sensitive person is subjected to secondhand smoke; pollutants; chemical fumes; or cold, dry air.

The main symptom of the condition is a sore throat that causes difficulties speaking and swallowing. Throat irritation usually results in a raspy, soft voice. Depending on the cause, a person may also have fever, head and body aches, nausea, and coughing fits. An infection that spreads to the tonsils can lead to an abscess and major throat swelling. Medical care should be sought right away if it becomes very difficult to breathe and open the mouth.

A physician can usually diagnose acute pharyngitis during a simple physical exam. A swab of mucus may be collected from the throat and tested to check for specific bacteria and viruses. If symptoms are severe and body-wide, blood work may be needed as well to screen for systemic infections.

In most cases, viral acute pharyngitis does not respond well to medications. Patients simply need to wait out the sickness, which may take up to two weeks. Drinking plenty of water is important to stay hydrated and relieve dryness in the throat. Warm liquids, numbing lozenges, and hard candies tend to soothe a sore throat as well. If streptococcus or another bacterium is determined to be the cause, a doctor may prescribe a short course of daily antibiotics.

Pharyngitis rarely causes complications or becomes a chronic problem, but it is possible for an infection to bury deep within the throat and tonsils and lead to persistent symptoms. Surgery may be needed to repair severely damaged throat tissue or remove swollen tonsils. Recovery from surgery can take several weeks, but most patients are able to heal completely without experiencing recurring problems.

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Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Jun 12, 2013

@ddjohn-- I'm not sure but I don't think pharyngitis is a sign of HIV. It may be a sign of herpes though which is a sexually transmitted disease.

I think HIV is a very far-fetched possibility. Sinus infections and even smoking can cause pharyngitis. We've all had it at some point. It's not a very big deal.

By fBoyle — On Jun 11, 2013

I've had pharyngitis off and on for years. Any time I have seasonal allergies or a cold, my throat starts to hurt and becomes swollen. My voice is the first thing to go.

I'm tired of taking medications for it, so I usually get through it with home remedies for sore throat and herbal teas and lozenges. My favorite teas are peppermint and chamomile teas with honey. I also add fresh ginger and lemon slices sometimes. I use lozenges that have a numbing effect.

One home remedy that's very good is gargling with warm salt water. I do this several times a day when I have pharyngitis. It relieves inflammation and pain and also kills bacteria.

By ddljohn — On Jun 10, 2013

Is acute sore throat a sign of an HIV infection?

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