A throat infection is characterized by scratchiness, irritation, dryness and pain in the throat. In some cases, the affected individual may face difficulty in swallowing and swollen lymph nodes.
Common throat infections can be of two types – bacterial and viral. The viral throat infection is referred to as a sore throat or pharyngitis and it is usually caused by a cold or flu. However, a bacterial throat infection is called a strep throat and is caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Of the two, the viral infection is more common in adults.
The viral infection is resistant to antibiotics but it goes away or gets better on its own in a few days. While strep throat needs to be treated with a course of antibiotics to cure it and prevent it from developing into further complications. It is also contagious.
Causes of Throat Infection
There can be many reasons for pharyngitis. The most common ones are discussed below:
- Underlying viral illness: Pharyngitis may be an indication of an underlying viral illness like influenza or flu, common cold, measles, mumps, chicken pox, tonsillitis, mononucleosis, mono or kissing disease, or croup – a childhood condition characterized by a barking cough.
- Dryness: Buildings or rooms that are heated can dry out the indoor air. This may cause the throat to feel irritated and itchy, especially in the mornings. Breathing through the mouth can also dry the throat making it feel raw and sore.
- Allergies: Some allergies, like those to dust, pollen, pet dander, molds, etc., manifest themselves as a sore throat.
- Strained muscles: A sore throat may result from straining the throat muscles by screaming loudly or talking or singing nonstop for a long period.
- Pollutants and irritants: Pollutants like smoke and smog in the air can irritate the throat. Irritants like tobacco, cigarette or tobacco smoke, fumes from cleaning materials can also inflame the throat muscles leading to a sore throat.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): In this digestive system disorder, acids and other contents in the stomach may re-enter the food pipe, thereby irritating the throat.
- Injury or foreign particles: Any direct blow to the throat or some foreign object, like a piece of food getting stuck in the food pipe, can also cause the muscles in the throat to get inflamed and cause pain and soreness.
- Weakened immune system: In conditions where the immune system is compromised, like HIV infection and certain cancers, a sore throat may be a recurring problem. This may happen because of secondary fungal infections like cytomegalovirus (CMV) or oral thrush.
- Tumors: Lumps or tumors, malignant or benign, in the throat, larynx (voice box) or on the tongue may cause a sore throat.
Though pharyngitis can affect anybody, certain people are at a greater risk of developing it.
Symptoms of Throat Infection
Usually defined by the cause of the infection, some of the most common symptoms of pharyngitis may include:
- Pain and a perpetual itch in the throat
- Difficulty in talking or swallowing
- Hoarse voice
- Swollen tonsils
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of taste
- Dehydration as one is unable to take in liquids
- White patches or pus formation on tonsils
- Inflamed glands in the neck and jaw
Accompanying symptoms may include fever, sneezing, body ache, headache, cough, runny nose, nausea or vomiting.
Note: Though a viral infection in the throat goes away on its own, one must visit the doctor if the symptoms persist for more than a week or if the accompanying symptoms also include joint pain, earache, rash or blood in the saliva.