Sore Throat - Causes and symptoms

Sore throats have many different causes. Proper treatment depends on understanding the cause of the sore throat.

Viral Sore Throat

Viruses cause 90 to 95 percent of all sore throats. Cold and flu viruses are usually responsible for the condition. These viruses cause an inflammation of the throat and sometimes the tonsils. Symptoms of a viral infection include a runny nose, cough, congestion, hoarseness, and fever. The level of pain varies considerably. It may be quite mild or very severe. In the worst cases, a patient may not be able to eat, breathe, swallow, or speak.

Another group of viruses that cause sore throat are the adenoviruses (pronounced AD-nn-oh-VY-russ-ez). The adenoviruses usually cause infections of the lungs and ears. In addition to those symptoms described above, adenoviruses may cause white bumps on the tonsils and throat, diarrhea, vomiting, and a rash. Sore throats caused by these viruses last about a week.

A third type of virus responsible for causing sore throat is the coxsackie virus. This virus causes a disease known as herpangina (pronounced hurpan-JI-nuh). Herpangina occurs most commonly among children under the age of ten. The disease is most common during the summer. It is sometimes called summer sore throat.

Summer sore throat can be quite severe. Symptoms include a high fever and the presence of tiny grayish-white blisters on the throat and mouth. These blisters break open and become very painful. People with this form of sore throat may vomit, have abdominal pain, and, generally, feel very sick.

A fourth type of virus that causes sore throat is the Epstein-Barr virus, (EHP-stine BAR) which also causes mononucleosis (see infectious mononucleosis entry). Mononucleosis is a very common disease. About 80 to 95 percent of all Americans have had the disease by age forty. Symptoms are mild and the disease usually clears up quickly. It can, however, produce a very painful sore throat.

There is no simple way to distinguish a viral sore throat from a bacterial sore throat. Viral sore throats are quite contagious. They can be spread by personal contact and by coughing or sneezing.

Bacterial Sore Throat

About 5 to 10 percent of all sore throats are caused by bacteria. The most common bacterial sore throat is caused by a bacterium called group A Streptococcus (pronounced strep-tuh-KOK-us). This type of sore throat is usually called strep throat (see strep throat entry). Bacterial sore throats can also be caused by the Gonococcus bacterium (pronounced GAHN-uh-KOCK-us). This bacterium also causes the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea (see sexually transmitted diseases entry). Bacterial sore throats are also contagious.

A group of viruses that usually cause infections of the lungs and ears.
A substance derived from bacteria or other organisms that fights the growth of other bacteria or organisms. Useful in treating bacterial sore throats, antibiotics are not effective against viral sore throats.
Coxsackie virus:
A virus that causes a disease known as herpangina.
A sexually transmitted disease caused by the Gonococcus bacterium.
The voice box.
Lymph nodes:
Small round or oval bodies within the immune system. Lymph nodes provide materials that fight disease and help remove bacteria and other foreign material from the body.
A highly infectious disease caused by Epstein-Barr virus. Characterized by fever, swollen lymph nodes and sore throat.
The part of the throat that lies between the mouth and the larynx, or voice box.

Noninfectious Sore Throat

Not all sore throats are caused by infection. For example, people with allergies often have sore throats. The sore throat is caused by fluids dripping from the back of the person's nose into the throat. These fluids irritate the pharynx.

Many materials in the environment can also irritate the pharynx. Such irritants include cigarette smoke, polluted air, chemical fumes, and dry air. These forms of sore throat are not contagious.

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