Viral Pharyngitis

What is Viral Pharyngitis?

Viral Pharyngitis is an inflammation that affects the pharynx of the throat. It is also referred to as sore throat. A sore throat induced by pharyngitis is among the commonest reasons why people visit doctors. More cases of pharyngitis may be seen during the colder months.

Sore throat arising from pharyngitis is also among the common reasons people tend to stay home from their work. Viral pharyngitis is caused by a virus while bacterial pharyngitis is caused by bacteria. 1

Viral Pharyngitis Picture 1

Pharyngitis causes swelling, pain, discomfort, or scratchiness within the throat. A majority of sore throats are as a result of virus infections.

Pharyngitis may be part of generalized infections affecting the respiratory tract or specific infections that are localized within the pharynx. Most cases of viral pharyngitis occur as part of conditions like common colds or influenzal syndromes.


Viral infections that may cause pharyngitis include common cold, mononucleosis, or influenza. Having frequent exposure to flus and colds increases your risk of having pharyngitis. Being exposed to secondhand smoke could also raise the risks of having pharyngitis.


Generally, a person with viral pharyngitis will have symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Discomforts in swallowing
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Tenderness of the lymph nodes found in the neck- they become swollen. 2

The symptoms may also vary depending on what is causing pharyngitis. If the cause is due to cold and flu, other symptoms that a patient may experience are:

  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue

A person with mononucleosis that is causing pharyngitis may show symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • General malaise
  • Severe fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches

If an individual has strep throat, which is another type of pharyngitis, he or she will experience symptoms such as:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • General malaise
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Red throat with some gray or white patches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusual taste in their mouth
  • Nausea

If you have a sore throat that comes along with the symptoms below, it is important you see a doctor.

  • Noisy breathing and excessive drooling
  • Difficult breathing through the mouth
  • Painful swallowing preventing you drinking fluids and water
  • Fever that is above 101 degrees Fahrenheit

Viral Pharyngitis Picture 2


Physical exam

A doctor will do physical examination by looking at the throat. The doctor checks for signs such as white or grey patches, redness, and swelling. He or she may also look at the nose and ears to see if there are signs associated with pharyngitis. Other areas that the doctor may check are the lymph nodes to feel if they are swollen.

Throat culture

If it is suspected that you have pharyngitis or strep throat, a type of pharyngitis, the doctor will order for a throat culture. In this procedure, it involves taking samples of secretions using a cotton swab. The secretions are taken from the throat. A doctor may do rapid strep test in his or her office.

Within a few minutes, he or she may tell if the sample tests positive for bacteria such as streptococcus. This may show if the pharyngitis is as a result of bacteria and not a virus. Bacterial phyryngitis accounts only for about 10 percent of the cases of pharyngitis while virus causes account for 90 percent of these cases.

Blood tests

When it is suspected that pharyngitis is being caused by another infection, blood testing may be ordered. Blood is drawn from the hand or arm and tested in a lab. The test will determine if a patient showing symptoms of pharyngitis is due to a condition like mononucleosis.

Furthermore, if another infection is suspected, a complete blood count test is ordered.


There may be no specific treatment when dealing with viral pharyngitis. Usually, treatment is directed towards relieving symptoms. A patient may need to gargle the mouth using warm salt water a couple of times in a day. You can take 3 grams or half teaspoon of salt and put in a glass of warm water. Mix the mixture and use it to gargle your mouth.

If you have fever, a patient may use anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen. However, it is important to recognize that excessive use of anti-inflammatory sprays or lozenges could worsen a sore throat.

When pharyngitis is caused by a viral infection, it is important not to use antibiotics. The use of antibiotics may only be recommended if it is a case of bacterial pharyngitis. Use of antibiotics to treat a viral pharyngitis makes bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics.

Sometimes, the lymph nodes could swell and become painful, especially if the pharyngitis is caused by an infection like mononucleosis. In this case, a doctor may administer anti-inflammatory drugs including prednisone to help ease the pain.

Viral Pharyngitis Picture 3

Home Remedies

Here are some home remedies a patient can use to help relieve symptoms of viral pharyngitis:

  • Eating warm broth
  • Drinking a lot of fluids to prevent being dehydrated
  • Using a humidifier
  • Taking rest until you are well

If you feel pain and have fever, you can take OTCs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Throat lozenges could help soothe a scratchy throat that is painful. There are alternative remedies that may be used to treat pharyngitis, but it’s always important to seek the advice of a doctor before using these remedies to prevent drug interactions. The alternative remedies include herbs like:

  • Licorice
  • Honeysuckle
  • Slippery elm
  • Sage
  • Marshmallow root


  • To help prevent pharyngitis, proper hygiene is crucial. You can ensure proper hygiene by:
  • Avoiding sharing drinks, food, and eating utensils
  • Avoiding coming in contact with individual who are sick
  • Washing hands frequently after sneezing, coughing, and before eating
  • Avoiding inhaling secondhand some and smoking
  • Using alcohol-based sanitizers in case you don’t have soap and water.

Since symptoms of bacterial and viral pharyngitis can overlap, sometimes, it is difficult for a doctor to differentiate between these forms of pharyngitis based on the symptoms alone.

In case, you have prominent cough alongside nasal symptoms, then it is likely that you have pharyngitis caused by virus than a strep throat or a pharyngitis caused by bacteria.

Also, an infection with fungi such as Candida may manifest in the form of difficulty swallowing, throat pain, and white patches occurring inside the mouth. These are symptoms also seen in pharyngitis, so proper examination and diagnosis is needed.

Again, a sore throat that takes a couple of weeks may be as a result of acid reflux or breathing through the mouth, especially in dry environments. It could also be caused by postnasal drip and in rare cases by a tumor.

Viral vs. Bacterial pharyngitis

Although pharyngitis caused by bacteria, for example, streptococcal pharyngitis may not be accurately diagnosed by using physical exam or looking at the symptoms a patient has alone, a number of clues can help a doctor determine if it is a bacterial sore throat or something else.

Often, strep produces signs like white patches in throat and tonsil. It also produces red, swollen tonsil and sometimes pus may occur in back of the patient’s throat. Therefore, clinicians should make sure they differentiate these two broad causes of pharyngitis.

Pharyngitis should be able to away within a period of 10 days or so, but if it persists for a couple of weeks, you should make an appointment with a doctor.

Reference List

  1. Pharyngitis.
  2. Pharyngitis- Viral.
  3. Sore Throat (Pharyngitis).
  4. Bacterial vs. Viral Pharyngitis.
  5. Pharyngitis.

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