The pharynx is the medical term for the back of the throat, located behind the mouth and nasal cavity and above the voice box. An infection or irritation of the pharynx is called pharyngitis, and it is the most common cause of a sore throat. Pharyngitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but can also be the result of an allergic reaction, various toxins, an injury to the throat, or more rare conditions like neoplasia. In cases where the pharyngitis is caused by streptococcal bacteria, the condition can lead to strep throat. A bacterial throat infection is sometimes treated with antibiotics, while a viral throat infection is usually only treated with over-the-counter medications.
Besides a sore throat, symptoms of pharyngitis commonly include fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and headache. Most cases of pharyngitis are caused by viral infections, and are often a symptom of a cold or flu. When the cause is viral, the sore throat often develops over a few days and is accompanied by other cold and flu symptoms, such as a runny nose and a cough. Such viral infections usually improve within a few days.
In other cases the sore throat develops more suddenly, usually without coughing or sneezing, and is then often the result of a bacterial infection, most commonly by streptococcus bacteria. This can lead to strep throat, and requires treatment with antibiotics. Pharyngitis caused by bacteria is more common in children than in adults, and is also more common during the fall and winter months. One should contact a medical professional if a sore throat lasts more than a few days. An exam, and sometimes a laboratory test called a throat culture, will be used to determine if the pharyngitis is caused by a bacterial infection.
Over-the-counter medications, such as medicated lozenges and pain relievers can be used to treat the symptoms of pharyngitis. Common home remedies that can also provide relief and soothe the sore throat include getting lots of rest, drinking warm or cold liquids, sucking on frozen treats or ice cubes, and ingesting honey. Gargling with a mixture made from 1 cup (250 ml) water and half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of salt several times a day can also help. One should contact a doctor if one experiences any trouble breathing while suffering from a sore throat, and also if one experiences a high fever or a skin rash.