Sore throats are common for everyone, whether it is a result of a cold or the flu. However, there are other causes for sore throats that may be a sign of more serious problems.
Strep throat, a highly contagious sickness, is caused by streptococcal bacteria (strep) in the throat and often the tonsils. Those with strep may experience symptoms such as sudden and severe sore throat, pain when swallowing, a fever over 101oF, swollen tonsils and lymph nodes and white or yellow spots on a reddened back of the throat. Doctors diagnose strep throat by performing a physical examination and a throat culture. Antibiotics are then given to patients to treat and alleviate the pain. Strep is usually resolved in three to seven days, though complete healing may take up to two weeks. Since strep throat is highly contagious, with a two-to-five day incubation period, it is essential to have it diagnosed and begin treatment as soon as possible to prevent the spread of it to others.
Inflamed Tonsils and Adenoids
Tonsils are part of the body's natural immune system, so when there is inflammation in the back of the throat on both sides of the tongue, it is tonsillitis. This tissue of the tonsils captures bacteria and viruses to either prevent them from entering the body or to trigger the appropriate immune response. Tonsillitis may be a result of strep throat. Signs of tonsillitis are redness or swelling in the back of the throat or white or yellow film covering the tonsils. The adenoids (tissue high in the throat behind the nose and soft palate) may also be inflamed and swollen. Symptoms include a severe sore throat, painful or difficult swallowing, coughing, headache, fever, chills and swelling of the cheeks and neck. To treat the inflammation, antibiotic medication (usually penicillin) is generally prescribed. Tonsillitis usually resolves in four to seven days, if it is caused by a virus. However, chronic cases of repeated tonsillitis may require surgical removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids (tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy). An adenoidectomy may also be recommended for children experiencing chronic ear infections.
If the larynx, the passage in the lungs which allows air to pass in and out while preventing solids (food) and liquids from entering the lungs and contributes to sound production by the vocal cords, becomes infected, it can become laryngitis. Laryngitis is characterized by hoarseness, coughing, difficulty in breathing for some children and, occasionally, loss of voice. In addition to an infection, laryngitis may be caused by acid reflux or nodules, polyps or nerve damage on the vocal cords. Laryngitis will usually heal by itself within two weeks with the help of increased air moisture, drinking plenty of fluids and resting the voice.
The pharynx is the tissue that resides behind the mouth and soft palate. It acts as a pathway for food and liquids to enter the esophagus and for air to enter the lungs. Any inflammation of the pharynx is called pharyngitis, which may also occur with laryngitis. The most common symptom of pharyngitis is painful swallowing, though the inflammation usually heals by itself with rest, fluids and air humidity.
The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the base of the tongue that keeps food from going into the windpipe when swallowing. Epiglottitis occurs when this tissue becomes inflamed and infected. Besides infections, epiglottitis may be caused by chemicals (illicit drugs), severe heat damage (thermal epiglottitis) or trauma. When the epiglottis swells, it can block your tongue and result in a medical emergency. If you experience a sore throat that hampers your ability to swallow, seek immediate medical attention.
If you have a sore throat that causes pain, makes it difficult to speak, or if your condition won't heal, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists.