Pharyngitis is a very common bacterial or viral infection of the throat (pharynx). The vast majority of cases are caused by viruses, while a minority are due to bacteria. The most serious bacterial pharyngitis is caused by Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph), but by the most common is caused by Streptococci.
The infection is passed from one person to another in tiny water droplets in the breath, and most cases occur in winter.
Pharyngitis symptoms may vary from one day of mild discomfort to a severe infection that may cause dramatic swelling of the throat for more than a week.
The patient may have a fever, throat pain and soreness, pain on swallowing, dry cough, headache and sometimes enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
Severe bacterial infections may rarely cause a throat abscess.
Most cases require no investigation, but if the infection is serious, a throat swab may be taken to identify the responsible bacteria and appropriate antibiotic. Blood tests may be performed if diseases such as glandular fever, which also cause throat pain, are suspected.
Pharyngitis treatment can be by aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen, anaesthetic gargles and soothing lozenges.
Bacterial pharyngitis is treated with antibiotics such as penicillin as well as the medications for a viral infection.
Viral infections last for a week or ten days, while antibiotics will cure a bacterial infection in a day or two.