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Pharyngitis Causes: Factors in Infection in the Throat

Updated on March 29, 2014
Pharyngitis is the condition of having an inflamed pharynx, and can be caused by a number of factors
Pharyngitis is the condition of having an inflamed pharynx, and can be caused by a number of factors | Source

Swelling in the pharynx, also known as pharyngitis, is a catch-all term to describe inflammation in the back of the throat. The most common symptom of pharyngitis is a sore and raw throat, which may also be red and swollen. Basically, pharyngitis describes a symptom -- the swelling of the pharynx -- but not any kind of actual disease or causative factors. It can be a symptom in a wide range of conditions, but most are relatively easy to diagnose and either cure or manage symptoms until the problem resolves itself.

When are you likely to get pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis can be caused by a variety of factors, which may include pollutants or general poor health. It's often accompanied by other symptoms such as achy muscles, headache, fever, painful swallowing, white spots in the back of the throat, or inflammation of the lymph nodes. While pharyngitis is often associated with fall and winter months due to its prevalence in diseases that are active during that time, it can actually strike at any time of year. The following specific causes often have their own seasons, but there is a primary pharyngitis culprit active at any given time.

Simple remedies can offer pharyngitis relief

Traditional Medicinals Organic Throat Coat Seasonal Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6)
Traditional Medicinals Organic Throat Coat Seasonal Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6)

Tired of the chemical-laden sore throat remedies available in stores? Try this organic solution to coat your throat and reduce the symptoms of pharyngitis


Viruses and pharyngitis

The most common cause of pharyngitis is a viral infection. Common viruses include a cold, flu or mono, which may show up as a sore throat before any other symptoms start. These viral infections range from mild to potentially life-threatening, depending on the exact strain, your overall health and your immune system function. If symptoms arise, monitor them closely.

Contact your doctor if you experience fever, aches, or coughing fits, or if the sore throat persists for more than a couple of days. If you have any known autoimmune dysfunction, or are immune suppressed for any known reason, then contact your doctor as soon as you experience symptoms. The less immune function you have, the less chance that a viral infection will be self-limiting.

Bacterial infections that cause pharyngitis

Often, pharyngitis is caused by bacterial infections. This may be bacteria in other parts of the body causing a reaction, but most often it's a colony of bacteria actually living on the back of the throat. Bacterial infections such as strep throat are highly contagious, but in most cases visible symptoms will occur that will indicate the presence of contagion. Note, though, that not all bacterial infections will cause full-blown disease -- you can carry the strep bacterium, for instance, and pass it on to others without experiencing symptoms yourself.

An excess of phlegm, white spots, and redness are all signs that the pharyngitis is a result of a bacterial infection. If you suspect a bacterial infection is the root of the problem, gargling with salt water may kill the infection. As with any unknown health issue, discuss any concerns or persistent symptoms with your doctor.

A throat with pharyngitis will appear red and swollen, and may have white spots in the back of the throat
A throat with pharyngitis will appear red and swollen, and may have white spots in the back of the throat | Source

Air pollution and direct mechanical damage causes pharyngitis

Pharyngitis can be caused by pollutants in the air. These environmental irritants are actually a very common cause for pharyngitis, and can include virtually any airborne particles. Changes in weather, particularly changes in humidity, are a frequent cause of pharyngitis. Smoke, incense, or other air pollutants can further worsen the condition. Any captured particles can produce friction on the tissues, creating irritation and soreness. Pharyngitis can also be caused by persistent coughing or otherwise scraping the throat.

Pharyngitis as an allergic reaction

Allergies of all types often cause pharyngitis before they produce any other symptoms, with the possible exception of localized itching (pruritis). Environmental allergens, food and drink, and other substances that cause an allergic reaction can also produce pharyngitis. Seasonal allergens such as dust, pollen, or animal dander can often result in allergic pharyngitis. There are a few treatment options for allergic pharyngitis; the most practical treatment is an antihistamine regiment formulated in consultation with your doctor, but teas or throat lozenges may also help alleviate symptoms.

Living with Oral Allergy Syndrome: A Gluten and Meat-Free Cookbook for Wheat, Soy, Nut, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Allergies
Living with Oral Allergy Syndrome: A Gluten and Meat-Free Cookbook for Wheat, Soy, Nut, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Allergies

Persistent pharyngitis that may be related to food allergies? Here's a guide for improving your health if you think your bouts of pharyngitis are linked to your food intake.


A clear visual explanation of pharyngitis and its visible signs

Overall, most cases of pharyngitis are relatively mild, but never simply assume that it's nothing to worry about. Most people will experience pharyngitis at least once in their lives, and the vast majority of those will have a sore throat more than once. The average adult experiences a sore throat once or twice a year, while children and immune-suppressed adults may have pharyngitis much more often.

I hope this has been helpful to you. Did I miss anything? Please feel free to leave your comments and observations below. I'd also love to hear about any home remedies you've used that have significantly improved pharyngitis symptoms. My personal favorite is a mint and chamomile tea with a dollop of raw honey, combined with regular salt gargles and hot steamy baths until the sore throat goes away. Any additional tips for home remedies or available products are greatly appreciated, especially for kids who hate to gargle salt water.


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