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Pharyngitis (Strep Throat): The Cause of Your Sore Throat

Pharyngitis is one of the most common complaints in a medical office is that of sore throat.   The medical term for sore throat is pharyngitis which essentially means inflammation of the pharynx, the pharynx being the throat area.  There are many potential causes for pharyngitis.

The most common cause of pharyngitis is a viral infection.   Viruses can often be spread from one sick person to another healthy one by droplets and saliva.  The spray of saliva from a sneeze for example can allow virus to gain access to a healthy person.  The virus often takes root in the pharynx because that is the area in which it gained access.  The virus will replicate in the tissue cells in the throat and as it fills those cells up with new virus the cells will rupture and die.  The newly replicated virus then spreads to other cells and repeats the same process reproducing over and over again.  The local cell death in the throat is experienced as pain.  As such, the first symptom of a viral infection is very commonly a sore throat.   As the virus spreads through the body it causes other symptoms such as body aches, nasal congestion, airway irritation, cough, etc.

Another common cause of pharyngitis is a bacterial infection with streptococcus pyogenese, better known as strep throat.  The four cardinal signs of strep throat are an exudative pharyngitis (meaning the visualization of pus), lack of cough, swollen lymph nodes in the anterior neck, and a fine rash.  Strep throat is usually treated with antibiotics, although it will often resolve on its own without treatment.  The primary reason for treatment, particularly in children, is the possible development of complications.  Strep throat can lead to inflammatory conditions such as rheumatic fever or kidney problems.

Allergies are another common cause of pharyngitis.  Nasal congestion and post nasal drip caused by allergies can cause throat irritation and pain.  This is a common cause of sore throat that lasts a long time or seems resistant to treatment.  It is often accompanied by other allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, nasal congestion, or chronic cough.