What causes a sore throat?

     A sore throat is just one symptom of an array of different medical disorders. Infections cause the majority of sore throats, and these sore throats are contagious (can be passed from one person to another). Infections are caused by either viruses (such as the flu, common cold, or mononucleosis) or bacteria (such as streptoccocus, mycoplasma, or haemophilus).

     The most important difference between viruses and bacteria is that bacteria respond well to antibiotic treatment'viruses do not.

Viruses

     Most viral sore throats accompany the flu or a cold. When a stuffy runny nose, sneezing, and generalized aches and pains accompany the sore throat, it is probably caused by one of the many known viruses. These are highly contagious and can cause epidemics, especially during winter.

     Sore throats can accompany other viral infections such as measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, and croup. Canker sores and fever blisters in the throat can contribute to the pain.

     In infectious mononucleosis, called mono, the virus lodges in the lymph system, causing swelling of the tonsils (white patches on their surface) as well as the lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin. It creates a painfully sore throat, sometimes causes serious difficulties breathing, and can affect the liver, leading to jaundice (yellowish skin and white of the eyes). It also causes extreme fatigue that can last six weeks or more. Mono is a severe illness in teenagers or young adults, but it is less severe in children. Because it can be transmitted by saliva, it has been nicknamed the "kissing disease". It can also be transmitted from mouth-to-hand to hand-to-mouth or by sharing towels and eating utensils.

Bacteria

     Strep throat is an infection caused by a particular strain of streptococcal bacteria. This infection can cause permanent damage to the heart valves (rheumatic fever) and kindneys (nephritis). Streptococcal

infections can also cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections.

     Because of these possible complications, a strep throat infection should be treated with an antibiotic. Strep infections usually cause a longer lasting sore throat than a cold or the flu. But strep is not always easy to detect by examination, and a throat culture may be needed. A new strep culture test detects a streptococcal infection in about 15 minutes.

Tonsillitis

     Tonsillitus is an infection of the lumpy tissue on each side of the throat toward the back of the tongue. In the first two-to-three years of childhood, these tissues catch germs, sampling the child's environment to help develop immunity (antibodies). Healthy tonsils do not remain infected, however, and frequent sore throats from tonsillitis suggests the infection is not fully eliminated between episodes of the tonsillitis (such as 3 to 4 episodes each year for several years) are healthier after their tonsils were surgically removed.

     Infections in the nose and sinuses can also cause sore throats, because music from the nose drains down into the throat and carries the infection with it.

     The most dangerous throat infection is epiglotitis, caused by bacteris that infect a portion of that larynx (voice box) and cause swelling that closes the airway. This infection is an emergency condition that requires prompt medical attention. Suspect it when swallowing is extremely painful (causing drooling), speech is muffled, and breathing becomes difficult.

Allergy

     Hayfever and allergy sufferers can get an irritated throat during an allergy attach the same way they get a stuffy, itchy nose, sneezing and postnasal drip. The same pollens and molds that irritate the nose when they are inhaled may also irritate the throat. People allergic to animal danders can suffer from an irritated throat when they are exposed to such animals, especially in winter then a heating system blows dust throughout the house. 

901 Leighton Avenue Anniston, AL 36207 Phone: (256) 238-0200 Fax: (256) 236-8007

Dr. Blane E. Bateman of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Inc. Dedicated to the care of the ears, nose and throat, and related structures of the head and neck.