Sore throats are a common ailment in both children and adults. They can be the result of a virus, bacterial infection, nasal congestion, the flu, mononucleosis and reactions to medical treatments such as tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. For the most part, sore throats are self-limiting and will go away by themselves, but sometimes they are caused by an infection and require further treatment by a physician to avoid more serious complications.
Sore throat vs. Infected throat
A sore throat produces mild symptoms such as scratchiness in the throat, discomfort or pain. Swallowing is sometimes uncomfortable. These symptoms can be treated at home by sucking on popsicles, drinking tea with honey, gargling with salt water several times a day or using humidifiers to counter the dryness. If these methods don't alleviate the problem, the throat condition worsens or you have a fever, you most likely have more than a mild sore throat and probably require treatment by a professional.
Strep throat is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria and is most common in children, though adults can also catch it. It is transferred by person-to-person contact and is spread through saliva or nasal secretions. In other words if you get coughed or sneezed on by an infected person, you are at risk of contracting the disease. If you are exposed you usually exhibit symptoms within 2 to 5 days. Frequently this begins with a sudden fever of 101 degrees or over, followed by difficulty swallowing and swollen lymph nodes. There will also be telltale white patches on the back of your throat, which could get very swollen. Strep throat is easily treated with antibiotics, but it is important that you visit your doctor if you suspect you have strep throat, as complications can lead to a scarlet fever rash or rheumatic fever. A throat swab will confirm the diagnosis.
Mononucleosis is a viral infection. It produces sore throat, fever and swollen lymph glands, mostly in the throat. it can be distinguished from other viral throat infections because it begins with extreme fatigue, headache, general feeling of not being well and a sore throat. It is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus but can also be caused by cytomegalovirus. As the disease progresses, your sore throat gets worse and develops a whitish-yellowish covering over the tonsils. The lymph nodes in the neck become swollen and painful. Your liver or spleen may become swollen and blood tests will reveal an elevated white blood count and abnormal liver function. This is not treated with antibiotics unless a blood test confirms a Strep infection as well. Absolute rest and fluids are the proscribed treatment.
The flu generally presents with a high fever, chills, body aches, dizziness and lack of energy. Within several days these symptoms can include increased respiratory symptoms such as a dry, hacking cough. The respiratory symptoms, such as the cough, can continue for weeks after the disease has subsided. Anti-viral medications are prescribed for severe cases or those at risk for complications, otherwise it is treated with bed rest, fluids, and medicines to relieve the symptoms.
Viral pharyngitis is "an inflammation of the pharynx, which is in the back of the throat, between the tonsils and the voice box (larynx)", according to MedlinePlus. It is typically caused by a virus, but can be caused by Group A Streptococcus, corynebacterium, arcanobacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Chlamydia pneumoniae. The main symptom of pharyngitis is a sore throat, coupled with a fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. It is treated with bed rest, fluids, vaporizers or humidifiers and over-the-counter pain medications. If you have trouble breathing or your sore throat doesn't go away in a couple of days, seek professional advice.