The pharynx is the area behind the back of the nose and throat which extends to the larynx and then continues down to the oesophagus. It connects the larynx as part of the respiratory system to the oesophagus which is part of the digestive system.

The pharynx pushes air towards the larynx and food and liquid to the oesophagus.

But like any other part of throat it can become sore and inflamed. Pharyngitis is the medical name for inflammation of the pharynx which occurs very easily. In some cases it is a ‘stand alone’condition or in other words, a sore throat. But in other situations it is a symptom of an underlying condition.

Causes of pharyngitis

This is usually caused by a virus although a bacterial infection accounts for a small percentage of cases. One example of this is strep throat.

A viral infection such as a cold or the flu causes a range of symptoms which include a sore throat.

If you come into contact with someone who has a viral infection; touch a surface which contains droplets (germs) caused by sneezing or are near someone when they cough or sneeze then you have a good chance of contracting this infection.

Other causes include allergies, smoky environments and repeated sinus infections.

Symptoms of pharyngitis

The main symptom is a sore throat.

Other symptoms will vary according to what the underlying cause is. If pharyngitis is caused by the common cold then symptoms will include:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Raised temperature (mild)

Pharyngitis as part of influenza (or ‘the flu’) will include the following symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Extreme tiredness

Pharyngitis as part of glandular fever will include the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen spleen
  • Liver inflammation
  • Swollen glands in neck and under the arms

Avoid sharing utensils, cups etc with anyone who has these types of pharyngitis and wash your hands regularly.

Treatment for pharyngitis

In most cases pharyngitis can be treated at home. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids –but choose warm rather than hot drinks as these will further inflame your sore throat. Take paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin to ease any pain and other symptoms such as a headache.

Do NOT give aspirin to children under 16.

If you have developed pharyngitis as a consequence of having the flu then get plenty of rest, keep warm and have plenty of drinks. Take painkillers such as paracetamol if you have a high temperature. Throat sweets or medicated lozenges can also help.

Try and rest your voice as much as possible and get plenty of sleep to prevent this infection from spreading to other areas of your throat such as your larynx. This will also help your immune system fight this infection.

Does pharyngitis require treatment from your GP?

If your condition does not improve or it worsens; if you develop a rash or find it difficult to breathe then seek urgent medical advice as these may be signs of a serious disorder.

It is a good idea to visit your GP if you notice white patches of tissue or pus filled sores at the back of your throat. These are signs of a bacterial infection which can be treated with antibiotics. Do this if you have a raised temperature which remains high or you find it too painful to swallow fluids.

Can pharyngitis be prevented?

It is not possible to prevent this infection from occurring in all cases but there are ways of reducing your risk of developing it. This includes eating a healthy diet, avoiding contact with someone who has this infection and staying well hydrated even in the winter.

Find out more in our preventing a sore throat section.

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