What Is a Throat Infection and What Can I Do?
Symptoms of throat infection most commonly include pain and a sensation of heat in the throat. The infection may also affect other structures within the throat, particularly the tonsils. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include fever, cough, congestion, and other flu-like symptoms, such as body aches. You may also experience swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
If the infection is focused on the tonsils, some clinicians may refer to the infection as tonsillitis.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms, treatment options, and prevention methods of throat infection, including when to contact a doctor.
Throat infections with different causes often have similar symptoms. These include:
- body aches
- cough, possibly coughing up clear, yellow, light brown, or green mucus
- difficulty swallowing
- dry throat or congestion
- enlarged lymph nodes or tonsils
- fever and chills
- pus or white patches covering the tonsils or throat
- throat pain
You may or may not experience all of these symptoms, depending on the cause or extent of the infection. At times, any of these symptoms can become severe.
You should contact your doctor if you:
- have a fever of above 101°F (38.3°C) for more than 1–2 days
- have trouble sleeping due to symptoms
- notice a red rash
- have white patches at the back of your throat or on your tonsils
- are having treatment for throat infection, but mild symptoms recur or are persistent
- feel concerned for any other reason
Emergency medical attention
Seek immediate medical care by calling 911 for serious symptoms, such as:
- choking or severe difficulty breathing
- rapid heart rate
- sudden swelling of the tongue or throat structures
- change in the level of consciousness or alertness, such as:
- passing out
- sudden change in mental status or behavior, such as:
Throat infections are typically the result of a virus or a bacterial infection.
Bacterial and viral throat infections are usually contagious.
The most important step in treating a throat infection is to practice prevention. However, even with the most conscientious efforts, infections can still occur.
Many throat infections resolve by themselves over time or are usually curable with timely treatment.
If your doctor suspects a throat infection, you will probably receive a throat culture. This involves swabbing the throat for mucus or a fluid sample for laboratory analysis. Your doctor will use this to identify the cause of your infection.
Antibiotic therapy is the mainstay of treatment for a bacterial infection and is highly effective. It is important to follow your treatment plan precisely and to take all medications as instructed to avoid reinfection or
Examples of antibiotics include penicillin V (Veetids) and amoxicillin (Amoxil).
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- certain topical anesthetics
- lozenges or gargle agents, such as benzocaine (Cepacol, Trocaine, Cylex), which help reduce pain from throat infections by blocking nerve impulses
Tonsillitis is a throat infection that has spread to the tonsils. One treatment option for tonsillitis is the surgical removal of the tonsils. This may be useful for infections that do not improve with antibiotics.
Another surgical option involves draining peritonsillar abscesses. This does not usually require the removal of the tonsils at the same time.
- avoiding smoke or chemical irritants during recovery
- drinking plenty of fluids, both warm and cold caffeine-free drinks
- eating frozen treats to soothe soreness and heat in the throat
- gargling with salt water
- getting plenty of rest
- humidifying air passages with steam
- resting your voice as much as possible
- sucking throat lozenges
- treating pain and fever as directed
A number of factors increase the risk of developing a throat infection. Not all people with risk factors will get a throat infection. Risk factors for a throat infection include:
- advanced or very young age
- closed-in work or living spaces
- exposure to highly populous areas
- working with children
- lowered immunity
Ways you can lower your risk of developing a throat infection include:
- avoiding sharing food and utensils, cups, or glasses
- using sanitizing agents on phones, keyboards, remotes, and other shared surfaces
- ventilating work and living spaces as much as possible
- washing your hands often
In rare cases, if you delay treatment over an extended period of time, you could run the risk of sepsis. This occurs if the infection enters the bloodstream.
You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the unique treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional design. Complications of a bacterial throat infection include:
- an abscess around the tonsils or back of the throat
- blockage of the airway
- rheumatic fever
- sepsis, a life threatening bacterial blood infection
- post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis
Throat infections of any type cause similar symptoms, which can include redness and swelling in the throat, and difficulty talking and swallowing.
It is important to seek medical treatment if you have a throat infection. Even though some infections clear up on their own, untreated throat infections can lead to complications such as tonsillitis.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics or certain pain relievers. You can also add some home-care remedies, such as lozenges, sucking on ice chips, and using a humidifier.