A sore throat can be due to various ailments. The most common are laryngitis and pharyngitis, two types of inflammation with similar symptoms. They are often, but not always, caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The signs and treatment options depend on the factors involved.
As the name suggests, laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx, a cartilaginous organ located in the throat. The larynx, which contains the vocal cords, is involved in phonation (the production of speech sounds), swallowing and breathing.
The main symptoms of laryngitis include:
• Loss or hoarseness of voice
• A tingling sensation at the back of the throat
• A persistent cough
Causes of laryngitis
Laryngitis can be brought on by many factors, including:
• Exposure to a smoky environment
• Excessive alcohol use
• Excessive use of your voice (e.g. screaming during a concert or hockey match)
• Bacterial or viral infection
• Other health problems (e.g. nodules or cancer)
The treatment for laryngitis depends on the nature of the problem. In many cases, the problem will eventually go away on its own, especially if it is caused by a viral infection or excessive voice use. If it is due to a bacterial infection, you will need a prescription for antibiotics.
Over-the-counter medications available at the pharmacy can be used to ease the symptoms of laryngitis. They come in several forms (lozenges, syrups, suppositories, etc.). Your family pharmacist can help you choose the right medication and give you useful advice. Just ask!
In most cases, rest is recommended. If symptoms last more than two weeks, or if you develop other symptoms, see your doctor.
Pharyngitis, an inflammation of the pharynx, can also be caused by a virus (in most cases) or bacteria (more rarely). The pharynx is a muscular tube in the throat. It is the common passageway for the respiratory and digestive systems. Pharyngitis, whose main symptom is a sore throat, provides a frequent motive for a visit to the doctor’s office.
Symptoms of pharyngitis
In addition to a sore throat, pharyngitis is associated with the following symptoms:
• Pain when swallowing
• Difficulty swallowing
• Redness and inflammation of the throat
• Pus near the pharynx or tonsils
• Loss of appetite
If it is caused by a virus, pharyngitis will result in cold-like symptoms: runny nose, coughing and fever.
As with laryngitis, pharyngitis does not always require medical treatment, since it is rarely caused by bacteria. If it is bacterial, antibiotics will be needed. Left untreated, a case of bacterial pharyngitis can lead to various complications, such as an ear or sinus infection.
To determine the exact nature of the infection, a throat culture will be taken using a long cotton-swab instrument. The sample will then be analyzed by a lab and the results will help your doctor establish a clear diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Again, as is the case with laryngitis, many treatment options available at the pharmacy can be used to ease the symptoms of pharyngitis. Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, are effective ways to manage a sore throat. Lozenges are also helpful. Always consult your pharmacist before purchasing an over-the-counter product.
If you have more questions about pharyngitis and laryngitis and how to treat them, speak with your family pharmacist for answers!