Definition

Viral pharyngitis is a sore, inflamed throat caused by a virus.

Sore Throat Due to Inflammation

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Causes

The following viruses are most likely to cause a sore throat:

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors include:

  • Age: children
  • Cigarette smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Living or working in close quarters such as:
    • Daycare
    • School
    • Military forces
  • Diabetes
  • Lowered immunity due to:
    • Excess fatigue
    • Poor eating habits
    • Poor hygiene
    • Recent illness

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Sore, red, swollen throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck and behind the ears

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Most viral sore throats are diagnosed based on the symptoms and examination of the throat. Often, the throat will be swabbed to make sure that the sore throat isn't due to strep infection, which requires treatment with antibiotics.

Treatment

There are no treatments to cure a viral sore throat. Most cases of viral pharyngitis heal on their own within about a week's time. A sore throat may be the initial symptom of an HIV infection.

Treatments to relieve symptoms until the infection heals, include:

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

Sore throat pain can be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving a child aspirin.

Self-Care

  • Gargling with warm salt water can help relieve a sore throat.
  • Using throat lozenges every couple of hours can help relieve sore throat and cough.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Hot drinks and soups can be very soothing for a sore throat.
  • Consider running a cool-mist humidifier. It can help keep your nasal passages moist and reduce congestion, two factors that can worsen a sore throat.

Prevention

To reduce your chance of getting a viral sore throat:

  • Practice good hygiene, including careful hand washing.
  • Don't share food or beverages with other people.
  • Avoid areas where people are smoking.

Viral sore throat is a “diagnosis of exclusion” made when sore throat is present and strep is regarded as unlikely. Even in the absence of strep, some types of sore throats need further tests or treatment.

Be sure to seek care if your sore throat is worsening, is associated with new, or serious symptoms, especially difficulty breathing, weakness, chills, or is not resolving within the time frame that your doctor predicted.