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What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis (commonly known as sore throat) is an inflammation of the pharynx resulting in a sore throat. Thus, pharyngitis is a symptom rather than a condition. Most often it is caused by viral and/or bacterial infections like the common cold and flu (both viral infections) or by infection with the streptococcus bacterium (strep throat). Pharyngitis can also occur with mononucleosis (“mono”), a viral infection. Sometimes allergies, such as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can cause sore throat. Dry indoor air, especially in the winter, can lead to recurrent sore throat, especially in the morning after waking up. Muscle strain in the throat can lead to pharyngitis. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to chronic sore throat because of stomach acid reflux irritating the throat.

Children and teens develop pharyngitis, particularly as a result of viral and bacterial infections, much more often than adults.


  • Sore throat
  • Dry, scratchy throat
  • Pain when swallowing

Other symptoms may be present depending on the cause, including fatigue, malaise, muscle aches, headache and fever — especially with the flu or other viral infections.


Diagnosis includes a physical exam and throat culture (swipe) to check for bacteria.


The treatment depends on the cause. Viral pharyngitis goes away on its own. Salt water gargles, pain relievers and extra fluids will help alleviate the symptoms. Bacterial pharyngitis is treated with antibiotics. Prompt antibiotic therapy is needed for strep throat because untreated, it can sometimes cause kidney problems and rheumatic fever that can damage the heart valves.

When to Call for Help

Call your pediatrician if you notice any of the symptoms listed above in your child. See your doctor if you or your child has pharyngitis that doesn’t go away in a week, if you notice swollen lymph nodes on the child’s neck, pus or white patches on the back of the throat, blood in the spit or phlegm or a rash. Call your pediatrician if your child has recurrent sore throat.

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