What is pharyngitis?

What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis is a commonly experienced sensation of pain in the mouth and throat. Almost everyone will have pharyngitis at one time or another during their lives. While it can be nothing to worry about, it might also be an indicator of a more serious condition requiring medical intervention[1]

Whether it’s something your GP has mentioned or a symptom listed on a medication you’re taking, you might not know exactly what pharyngitis means. It might sound mysterious and scary, but it’s actually just another word for a sore throat

What does pharyngitis mean?

To be clear, sore throat is what you’d call the general or layperson’s term. Pharyngitis is the medical term. Usually involving words stemming from Greek and Latin, medical terms are universal labels used to ensure medical professionals who speak different languages understand each other.

In this example, an inflamed or sore throat is known as pharyngitis, which can be broken down into two parts. The first, ‘pharynx’ means throat, and the second, ‘itis’ means inflammation[2]. It’s as simple as that. 

Try not to get confused between pharyngitis and the similarly named laryngitis. Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box or, to use the medical term, larynx. The pharynx sits at the back of your mouth going down into your oesophagus, where your food goes. The larynx, on the other hand, is at the top of your trachea, where air goes when you breathe in and out. As air passes through the larynx, you can vibrate the bands of tissue known as your vocal cords to create sound – otherwise known as your voice[3]

What causes pharyngitis?

Typically, pharyngitis is caused by an infection. Viral infections are the most common cause of pharyngitis – including flu, mononucleosis and the common cold. However, not all cases of pharyngitis are caused by viral infection. Bacterial infections also play their part. Strep throat is the most common cause of bacterial pharyngitis, but gonorrhoea and chlamydia can also cause a sore throat.

Additionally, you can also experience pharyngitis as a result of[1]:

  • Allergies
  • Excessively hot and/or spicy foods or drinks
  • Overusing your voice – for example, by singing, screaming or shouting a lot
  • Acid reflux (or gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GORD)
  • Having a very dry mouth or throat

Is pharyngitis contagious?

Pharyngitis caused by a viral or bacterial infection is often contagious, so it’s best to take measures to prevent passing it on. This can include things like not sharing a drink with anyone, never using someone else’s lip balm and always coughing or sneezing into a tissue.

Usually, pharyngitis caused by a dry throat, allergies, irritation of the throat or acid reflux isn’t contagious as these conditions can’t be passed on. If you’re not sure if you’re contagious, it’s best to err on the side of caution and think of those around you. Some treatments, such as antibiotics in the case of a bacterial infection, may reduce the length of time for which you are contagious[1].

What are the symptoms of pharyngitis?

The main symptom of pharyngitis is, as you might expect, a sore throat, which can often be eased with the help of Chloralieve’s soothing throat lozenges. However, this can be accompanied by a warmth or heat in your throat and/or neck, a swollen feeling in that area and a cough. These symptoms may start before or after the pain of pharyngitis and usually last for the duration of the sore throat.

Depending on what is causing your sore throat, you may also experience any of the following[1]

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Patches in the throat
  • Nausea and/or loss of appetite
  • A bad taste in the mouth


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sore-throat/

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pharyngitis

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/laryngitis/