Pharyngitis is a medical word for a sore throat. It is caused by swelling of the throat, tonsils, and voice box. It can be caused by both viruses and bacteria.  Pharyngitis is varied in severity, as there are many different causes of this condition.  It could be as minor as a mild sore throat, and as severe as a bad strep infection.

Signs & Symptoms of Pharyngitis

  • Pain/Discomfort
  • Scratchiness in the throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea/Vomiting

Viral Pharyngitis

Viruses are the most common causes of pharyngitis. Viral infections resulting in pharyngitis include flu and cold, coxsackievirus (hand-foot-mouth), and mono (the kissing disease).

Symptoms that are exclusive to viral pharyngitis infections are cough, rhinorrhea, hoarseness, oral ulcers, and conjunctivitis.

Bacterial Pharyngitis

Bacterial infections resulting in pharyngitis include strep throat, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, among others. The most common cause of bacterial pharyngitis is group A strep, or Streptococcus pyogenes.

Strep Infections

Step infections are caused by direct person-to-person transmission through saliva or nasal secretions (i.e. snot) of an infected person.  If you have strep, please stay away from crowded locations like schools, or public spaces. You can get strep from improperly handled food, or from household items as well. Strep incubation is about 2-5 days, so if you’ve been exposed, you won’t develop symptoms for a few days.

Symptoms of strep infections include a sore throat that is more painful when swallowing. Children with strep throat don’t typically want fluids or foods. You can typically tell if your child has strep throat by shining a flashlight at the back of their throat. The throat will be bright red and tonsils will be swollen, red, and likely covered in pus.

People with strep throat can develop scarlet fever. Scarlet fever is a rare condition caused by an untreated strep infection. It causes a red, sandpaper-like rash under the arms, on the neck, and at the groin. Over time, this rash will spread and as the rash fades, the skin may peel.  Scarlet fever also causes a strawberry-like tongue and flushed rosy cheeks. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Here at the office, we have a rapid antigen detection test (RADT) available in order to determine if your child has a strep infection. However, there are a number of other causes of pharyngitis. Because of the nature of pharyngitis, there are many treatment options for your child. For example, if your child has the flu or a cold, you can treat symptoms at home. For strep infections, you need a provider to prescribe your child antibiotics.

At-Home Pharyngitis Relief

  • Sip lots of fluids (chicken broth, water, tea)
  • Eat soothing cold foods like popsicles or sherbet
  • Suck on hard candies
  • Gargle with a warm water and salt solution
  • Pain reliever (e.g. Tylenol or Advil)

As a general rule,

  • newborns (under 1 month) should be taken to the ER for a temp over 100.7° F
  • older kids should be taken for a temp over 103.5° F (check first to see if they are responsive to fever reducers like Tylenol or Motrin)

Children are usually no longer infectious once their fevers subside. As soon as your child is feeling better and no longer has a fever, they can return to school and other normal activities.