A sore and swollen throat, a medical condition called pharyngitis, is often accompanied by scratchiness, painful swallowing and swollen tonsils. Most sore throats do not indicate a serious condition and usually resolve on their own. A sore throat may be present on its own or indicative of another illness, such as flu or strep throat.
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In addition to swelling and soreness, a sore throat can also be accompanied by dryness, scratchiness and pain when breathing, swallowing and talking, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms that indicate an underlying cause or illness include vomiting, headache, rash, inability to swallow, runny nose, cough and fever. An inflammation of the tonsils and pharynx, the area behind the nasal cavity and mouth, is often seen as well.
Most sore and swollen throats are caused by a viral infection. The most common viruses that result in a sore throat are the common cold virus, influenza virus and mononucleosis. Other less common viruses include measles and chickenpox, notes the Mayo Clinic.
Bacterial infections can also cause sore throats. The most common bacterial infection is strep throat, according to Medline Plus. Other bacterial infections include tonsillitis and diphtheria, which is common in developing nations. Both viruses and bacteria enter through the nose and mouth as a result of airborne pathogens or contact with an infected person. Other causes of sore and swollen throat include allergies, pollution, dry air, tumors and HIV infection.
In the case of a sore and swollen throat caused by bacteria, treatment consists of a series of antibiotics. All of the antibiotics must be taken, even if symptoms go away before the antibiotics are gone.
Viral sore throats cannot be treated by medication. The doctor will recommend rest and plenty of fluids throughout the day. Usually a viral sore throat will resolve itself in approximately 10 days, however, those caused by mononucleosis can last over four weeks, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Recommendations to ease the pain and discomfort associated with a sore throat include gargling with warm salt water, sucking on throat lozenges, candy or popsicles, and taking a pain reliever.
The best method of prevention is frequent hand washing. Other prevention methods include not sharing utensils or drinks with others, regular disinfection of items such as telephones and door handles, avoiding contact with people who are sick, staying indoors on days of high pollution and installing a humidifier in your home.
Sore throats are a common occurrence. However, you should contact your doctor immediately if a sore and swollen throat is accompanied by fever of greater than 101 degrees F, pus in the back of the throat, red rash or increased skin redness, extreme difficulty in swallowing, labored breathing or tender, swollen lymph glands.