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How to relieve the symptoms of pharyngitis?

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What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis is the inflammation of the mucosa of the pharynx which often causes pain when swallowing. The pharynx, commonly known as the throat, is the cavity that extends from the back of the nose and mouth to the beginning of the larynx and esophagus. The pharynx has the function of conducting air into the lower respiratory tract and facilitating the passage of food into the esophagus.

Inflammation of the pharynx is often associated with inflammation of the tonsils, which is why, in clinical medical practice, the term pharyngotonsillitis is used to refer to this condition. For practical purposes, pharyngotonsillitis, tonsillitis, and pharyngitis are considered similar terms, although the latter is understood to be a more common, less important, and less serious condition.

What types of pharyngitis are there?

There are two forms of pharyngitis:

Acute pharyngitis: may present as inflammation of the tonsils and refers to inflammation of the pharynx, uvula, tonsils, and soft palate.

Chronic pharyngitis: includes a series of inflammatory or irritative processes of the pharyngeal mucosa that persist or are often repeated, generally without infectious cause, and that can occur in various situations: gastroesophageal reflux, toxic irritants such as dust, chemical substances, tobacco smoke, or when breathing through the mouth before nose conditions that occur with nasal obstruction. Those who suffer from it frequently present a throat clearing to try to relieve the sensation of mucus in the throat, together with pharyngeal itching or pain and discomfort when swallowing.

What causes pharyngitis?

In most cases, pharyngitis is caused by a virus or is a manifestation of a catarrhal condition. Among the viruses, adenoviruses are the most prevalent, although others may be involved, such as rhinovirus, influenza A and B virus, parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, or Epstein-Barr virus, the origin of mononucleosis, which manifests with a pharyngotonsillitis of great clinical involvement.

The cause can also be bacterial, where the causative agent is a bacterium, generally beta-hemolytic streptococcus group A (EBHGA), and although its incidence varies according to the time of year and the age of the patient, it is usually more common in children and adolescents.

How is it spread?

Pharyngitis, like colds, is spread through the small drops of saliva that are expelled when speaking, coughing, or sneezing, although there are also factors that favor its appearance, such as conditions of greater family grouping, pollution, environments with tobacco smoke and also being a smoker.

How many people are affected?

There are no specific data on the incidence of pharyngitis in the general population due to its various forms of presentation, since the pharynx is also affected in catarrhal conditions in which, in addition to the involvement of the nose with watery mucus and nasal congestion, a sore throat appears.

Pharyngitis is one of the most frequent symptoms seen in Primary Care or Emergency Departments, and in most cases its origin is viral.

Its greatest incidence occurs in the winter and spring seasons, although it can even occur at the beginning of the summer due to the involvement of rhinovirus or other viruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections.

What are its symptoms?

The typical symptom of pharyngitis is a sore throat, but depending on its origin – viral or bacterial – it also may be accompanied by other symptoms:

Viral origin: in addition to the sore throat, mucus or nasal congestion, cough, headache, hoarseness, tenths of fever or muscle aches appear.

Bacterial origin: this is the case of streptococcal pharyngotonsillitis (angina) and the symptoms are usually significant. It begins with an abrupt onset of high fever, chills, muscle, and joint pain, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and swelling on palpation of the neck (nodes). It may be confused with influenza due to the intensity of the clinical picture, but, together with the reddening of the throat, there is an important whitish mucus covering the tonsils (white pus plaques), which is less frequent in pharyngotonsillitis caused by viruses.

Can it lead to complications?

Viral pharyngitis is a condition that is cured in 4 or 5 days without the help of a specific treatment. It does not usually cause complications and if they appear, they are linked to the cold itself and may cause bronchitis and sinusitis, especially in children, otitis.

However, in the case of streptococcal bacterial pharyngotonsillitis, local and general complications may occur:

Local complications: the most frequent is peritonsillar access, which is usually characterized by a worsening of symptoms, with increased pain that makes swallowing difficult or even impossible. Other prominent symptoms are increased hoarseness, excess saliva due to the inability to swallow, bad breath, persistent high fever, and significant swelling of throat tissues. Antibiotic treatment and urgent intervention by the otolaryngologist is required.

General complications: rheumatic fever and glomerulonephritis may appear, two exceptional diseases nowadays.

What treatment is recommended?

To determine the appropriate treatment in each case, a doctor must first make a correct diagnosis based on clinical symptoms and examination data.

For the treatment of streptococcal bacterial tonsillitis, antibiotics are required, with the aim of improving symptoms, limiting contagion, and preventing complications such as those described above.

In the case of acute pharyngotonsillitis, its treatment is generally symptomatic, since most of the time it is due to a viral cause, and is aimed at relieving symptoms and shortening the course of the disease.

Tips to prevent and/or control the onset of acute pharyngitis

  1. Avoid heavily polluted environments.

If we breathe air with excessive pollution, we can encourage viruses and bacteria accumulated in the air to enter our body and cause the onset of pharyngitis.

  1. Avoid sudden changes in temperature.

Dry environments due to heating or air conditioning, as well as the ingestion of very hot food or excessively cold drinks, can damage the mucosa of the pharynx.

  1. Protect yourself to avoid contagion.

Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, use tissues, and wash your hands frequently to prevent infection.

  1. Keep yourself adequately hydrated.

Drink more fluids than usual, as well as warm herbal teas.

Gargle with chamomile or warm water and salt will relieve the pain in your pharynx.

  1. Strengthen your throat with a diet rich in vitamin C.

Citrus fruits, grapes, and honey will protect your body and help keep your throat in good condition.

  1. If you smoke, quit.

Smoking can cause discomfort in various parts of the body, but it especially irritates the tissues of your throat.

  1. The scarf, is your best complement this winter.

In the winter season, wrap up warm and go out of the house covering your throat with a scarf, or go for a garment that covers your neck.

  1. Consult your pharmacist.

Before taking oropharyngeal products with antiseptics or anesthetics to relieve pain, consult a health professional.

  1. At the slightest symptom, go to the doctor.

If you have a severe sore throat, your symptoms do not improve after three to five days and you develop a fever, consult your family doctor as soon as possible.

  1. Do not self-medicate.

Antibiotics should be prescribed by your doctor after evaluating your symptoms.


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