Have you ever gotten a really bad sore throat? So bad that your throat feels raw, like it's been rubbed with sandpaper? It can hurt just to swallow. Pharyngitis is a big word that basically means sore throat. It's a type of sore throat that's caused by inflammation of the pharynx.

Your pharynx is a tube in the back of your throat. It sits between your tonsils and your voice box. When bacteria or viruses get into your throat, they can cause an infection that makes your pharynx swollen, tender, and red. This is called pharyngitis. Often, Group A strep bacteria cause pharyngitis, known as strep throat.

The main symptom of pharyngitis is a sore throat, but you may also have other signs of an infection, such as a fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, and swollen glands in your neck. Your doctor will notice that your pharynx is swollen and red when looking at your throat. You may also need a swab called a throat culture to make sure you don't have strep throat.

If you do test positive for strep throat, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to kill off the bacteria. There's another common type of bacteria that can cause throat infections: Fusobacterium necrophorum. I call it F-throat. Antibiotics are important for F-throat. But pharyngitis that's caused by a virus won't get better with antibiotics. You'll just need to take care of yourself and wait for your body to fight off the infection.

To soothe a sore throat, drink warm liquids such as tea with honey or lemon. Gargle a few times a day with warm water mixed with about a half-teaspoon of salt. Sleep with a cool-mist vaporizer to keep your throat moist. Popsicles may be soothing. And suck on cough drops or lozenges. If your throat is really raw, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Sore throats are more common during the winter months, so wash your hands often and try to not be too close to people who are sick. If you do get a sore throat, stay home and rest until you feel better, or at least until there's been no fever for 24 hours. Keep washing your hands often so you don't pass the infection to other people in your family. Pharyngitis should go away in a few days, but if it doesn't, call your doctor. Also call if you have a very high fever, a rash, or swollen gland s. Get emergency help right away if you have trouble breathing.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/25/2011
  • Alan Greene, MD, Author and Practicing Pediatrician; also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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