Pharyngitis: Throat Disease, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, which is in the back of the throat. It’s most often referred to simply as sore throat.” Pharyngitis can also cause scratchiness in the throat and difficulty swallowing.

Pharyngitis can involve some or all of these parts of the throat:

  • the back third of the tongue
  • the soft palate (roof of the mouth)
  • the tonsils (fleshy tissue that is part of the throat's immune defenses).


The most common cause of sore throat is infection with bacteria or a virus. Because infection of the pharynx almost always involves the tonsils, tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) was once a common name for infectious pharyngitis.

In regions that have warm summers and cool winters, viral pharyngitis typically peaks during the winter and early spring. This is a time when people are more likely to gather in poorly ventilated rooms. The viruses that cause pharyngitis spread easily. The viruses can spread through the air by hanging on to droplets from coughs and sneezes. They stick to unwashed hands that have been exposed to fluids from a sick person's nose or mouth.


Causes of Pharyngitis:

There are numerous viral and bacterial agents that can cause pharyngitis. They include:

  • measles
  • adenovirus, which is one of the causes of the common cold
  • chickenpox
  • croup, which is a childhood illness distinguished by a barking cough
  • whooping cough
  • group A streptococcus

In cases of infectious pharyngitis that are not viral, the cause is almost always a bacterium — usually a group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus, which causes what is commonly called strep throat. Like viral pharyngitis, strep throat can spread quickly and easily within a community, especially during late winter and early spring.

Unlike most forms of viral pharyngitis, however, untreated strep throat can lead to serious complications, such as glomerulonephritis (a kidney disorder) and rheumatic fever (a potentially serious illness that can damage heart valves). A strep infection also has the potential to spread within the body, causing pockets of pus (abscesses) in the tonsils and in the soft tissue around the throat.


Symptoms  of Pharyngitis:

The incubation period is typically two to five days. Symptoms that accompany pharyngitis vary depending on the underlying condition.


-  In addition to a sore, dry, or scratchy throat, a cold or flu may cause:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • headache
  • cough
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • chills
  • fever (a low-grade fever with a cold and higher-grade fever with the flu)

-  In addition to a sore throat, the symptoms of mononucleosis include:

  • wollwn
  • severe fatigue
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • general malaise
  • loss of appetite
  • rash


-  Strep throat, another type of pharyngitis, can also cause:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • red throat with white  or gray patches
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fever
  • chills
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • unusual taste in the mouth
  • general malaise


The length of the contagious period will also depend on your underlying condition. If you have a viral infection, you will be contagious until your fever runs its course. If you have strep throat, you may be contagious from the onset until you’ve spent 24 hours on antibiotics.

The common cold usually lasts less than 10 days. Symptoms, including fever, may peak around three to five days. If pharyngitis is associated with a cold virus, you can expect your symptoms to last this duration of time.

Leave a Reply