Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis
What are pharyngitis and tonsillitis?
Pharyngitis and tonsillitis are infections in the throat that cause inflammation. If the tonsils are primarily affected, it is called tonsillitis. If the throat is primarily affected, it is called pharyngitis. A person might even have inflammation and infection of both the tonsils and the throat. This would be called pharyngotonsillitis. These infections are spread by close contact with other individuals. The majority of pharyngitis cases occur during the winter or colder months.
What causes pharyngitis and tonsillitis?
There are many causes of infections in the throat. Viruses are the most common cause and do not require antibiotics. Treating viral pharyngitis is a common reason for the inappropriate use of antibiotics, which should be used only for the treatment of bacterial infections. Causes of throat infections include:
Viruses. This infection is the most common in all age groups, and may include:
Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis)
Herpes simplex virus
Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS)
Haemophilus Influenzae type b
What are the symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis?
The symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis depend greatly on the cause of the infection and the person affected. For some people, the onset of symptoms may be quick; for others, symptom onset is slow. The following are the most common symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Fever (either low- or high-grade)
Decrease in appetite
Not feeling well
Visual redness or drainage in the throat
The symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis. If a sore throat is severe and includes difficulty swallowing, drooling, or neck swelling, a doctor should be consulted immediately.
How are pharyngitis and tonsillitis diagnosed?
In most cases, it is hard to distinguish between a viral sore throat and a strep throat based on physical examination. It is important, though, to know if the sore throat is caused by GABHS, as this requires antibiotic treatment to help prevent the complications that can occur with these bacteria.
As a result, most people, when they have the above symptoms, will receive a strep test and throat culture to determine if it is an infection caused by GABHS. This usually involves a throat swab in the doctor's office.
Quick tests, called rapid strep tests, may be performed. This may immediately show as positive for GABHS and antibiotics will be started. If it is negative, part of the throat swab will be kept for a throat culture. This will further identify, in two to three days, if GABHS is present. Your doctor will decide on the treatment plan based on the findings.
What are the treatments for pharyngitis and tonsillitis?
Specific treatment for pharyngitis and tonsillitis will be determined by your doctor based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Cause of the condition
Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
If bacteria are not the cause of the infection, the treatment is usually more for comfort. Antibiotics will not help treat viral sore throats. Treatment may include:
Acetaminophen (for pain)
Increased fluid intake
Antibiotics (if the cause of the infection is bacterial, not viral)