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Pharyngitis - viral

Definition

Viral pharyngitis is inflammation of the pharynx (the part of the throat between the tonsils and the larynx).

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Viral pharyngitis is the most common cause of a sore throat.

Pharyngitis may occur as part of a viral infection that also involves other organ systems, such as the lungs or bowel.

Symptoms

Signs and tests

Usually the health care provider makes a diagnosis by examining the throat. A throat swab culture will be negative for bacterial causes of sore throat (such as group A streptococcus).

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for viral pharyngitis. You can relieve symptoms by gargling with warm salt water (one half-teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water) several times a day and taking anti-inflammatory drugs or medications, such as acetaminophen, to control fever. Excessive use of anti-inflammatory lozenges or sprays may make a sore throat worse.

It is important to avoid antibiotics when a sore throat is due to a viral infection. The antibiotics will not help. Using them to treat viral infections helps strengthen bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.

In some sore throats (such as infectious mononucleosis), the lymph nodes in the neck may become extremely swollen. They may be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, such as prednisone.

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms usually go away within a week to 10 days.

Complications

Complications of viral pharyngitis are extremely uncommon.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms last longer than expected or do not improve with self-care. Always seek medical care if you have a sore throat and have extreme discomfort or difficulty swallowing or breathing.

Prevention

Most cases are not preventable, because the viruses and bacteria that cause sore throats are commonly found in the environment. However, always wash your hands after contact with a person who has a sore throat. Avoid kissing or sharing cups and eating utensils with sick individuals.

References

Frye R, Bailey J, Blevins AE. Clinical inquiries. Which treatments provide the most relief for pharyngitis pain? J Fam Pract.2011;60(5):293-294.

Weber R. Pharyngitis. In: Bope ET, Kellerman RD, eds. Conn’s Current Therapy 2012. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 1.


Review Date: 5/15/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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