What Is Pharyngitis? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:00 Causes of Pharyngitis
  • 2:00 Symptoms
  • 2:20 Treatments
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Toresea Dunaway
Pharyngitis is the inflammation of the pharynx. The pharynx is the throat. Normally the throat is moist, clear, and painless. If the suffix of a word ends in the letters 'itis' it is indicative of inflammation.

Causes of Pharyngitis

The pharynx is the throat. Inflammation of the pharynx is pharyngitis. This is also known as a sore throat. Causes of pharyngitis include viral or bacterial illnesses. The most common viral illness is the common cold. Other viral illnesses include the flu, mononucleosis (mono), chickenpox, and croup, which occurs in young children. Some pharyngitis is caused by bacteria and is painful and can also present with white patches on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and fever. Many people have a very painful sore throat and think they have strep throat. Strep can be confirmed within about 15 minutes using a swab to the throat known as a rapid strep test. Strep throat needs to be treated by a physician as streptococcus bacteria can enter the bloodstream and causes damage to the heart. Some cases of pharyngitis may be very painful but may not be caused by the bacteria that causes strep throat.

Other causes of pharyngitis include bacterial infections such as diphtheria, and whooping cough. Causes that may not be obvious include allergies, dryness, irritants, muscle strain of the muscles in the throat, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), and tumors. Rare causes include an abscess in the throat and inflammation of the epiglottis which is called epiglottitis. The epiglottis is the flap covering the trachea or windpipe.

Viral pharyngitis may run its course unless the viral pharyngitis is caused by mononucleosis, which is a severe viral infection in teens and young children and can take over a week to clear. Mononucleosis is often called the 'kissing disease' although people do not need to have kissed each other in order to acquire this condition. Simply sharing eating utensils, drinking after each other, or sharing towels can spread this condition to others.


Symptoms of pharyngitis can range from mild to severe. The throat may be described as irritated, sore, extremely sore, or the throat may be so severely inflamed that the person cannot even swallow. There may be white patches on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, fever, and a general feeling of illness.

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