What is chronic pharyngitis?
Pharyngitis (sore throat) is a common upper respiratory infection that usually goes away after a few days. But when the soreness lingers or comes back frequently, it’s called chronic pharyngitis. It can happen when your pharynx (the back of your throat) becomes inflamed.
What is the difference between acute pharyngitis and chronic pharyngitis?
Acute pharyngitis is more common than chronic pharyngitis. Treatment involves treating the symptoms, and it usually goes away within 10 days. In comparison, chronic pharyngitis lingers for much longer — often for several weeks. There are many different causes, and treatment involves addressing the underlying problem.
How common is chronic pharyngitis?
While a chronic sore throat isn’t as common as acute pharyngitis, the condition still affects millions of people in the United States each year.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the signs and symptoms of chronic pharyngitis?
Chronic pharyngitis symptoms are similar to acute pharyngitis symptoms. Generally, the condition is chronic if symptoms linger for longer than 10 days. Common warning signs include:
- Pain or scratchiness in your throat.
- Swollen glands in your neck.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- A tickling sensation in your throat.
- A tired voice.
- A sensation that something is stuck in your throat.
If you have an infection as well as a sore throat, you may also develop:
What’s the most common cause of a sore throat?
Infections are the most common cause of both acute and chronic pharyngitis. However, a number of other factors can result in chronic pharyngitis, including:
- Persistent tonsillitis, a condition in which your tonsils become inflamed and infected.
- Environmental pollutants, such as smoke and chemicals.
- Allergic reactions to pollen, mold and pet dander.
- Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), where stomach acid goes back into your throat and causes irritation.
Very rarely, throat cancer can cause chronic sore throat. This type of cancer starts in your pharynx or larynx (voice box). The resulting throat pain may be accompanied by shortness of breath, lumps in your neck or bleeding in your nose or mouth.
Is chronic pharyngitis contagious?
Yes. If chronic pharyngitis is due to a viral or bacterial infection, then it can be transmitted from one person to another through saliva, mucus and nasal discharge. Some viruses and bacteria can survive on surfaces for a period of time, so contact with towels, toothbrushes, clothing or eating utensils can spread the disease.
How long am I contagious?
Viral pharyngitis is contagious as long as symptoms are present. If you have bacterial pharyngitis, a course of antibiotics can reduce the length of time that you’re contagious. Generally, you’re no longer contagious after 24 hours of taking an effective antibiotic.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is chronic pharyngitis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will begin with a physical examination. They may also recommend a throat culture or rapid antigen detection testing for strep throat — especially if they think your pharyngitis is due to something other than a virus.
Management and Treatment
How is chronic pharyngitis treated?
Treatment for chronic pharyngitis depends on the underlying cause. Once your healthcare provider determines what led to your sore throat, they’ll recommend an appropriate course of action.
In most cases, tonsillitis is treated with antibiotics. If the condition returns frequently, then your healthcare provider may recommend a tonsillectomy.
Sometimes smoke, chemicals or other environmental pollutants can cause chronic pharyngitis. In these cases, you must avoid all situations in which you’re exposed to these triggers. This should promote healing and reduce symptoms.
Oftentimes, nasal sprays and other over-the-counter medications can effectively treat chronic pharyngitis caused by allergies. In severe cases, you may need to schedule an appointment with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
People with laryngopharyngeal reflux may benefit from certain lifestyle changes, such as stress reduction, losing weight and altering their diet. Proton-pump inhibitors (medication) can also help reduce symptoms.
How can I manage symptoms of chronic pharyngitis?
Addressing the underlying cause is the only way to treat chronic pharyngitis. However, there are a few chronic pharyngitis home remedies you can try to ease your sore throat symptoms:
- Drink lots of water.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, naproxen sodium or ibuprofen.
- Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day.
- Don’t smoke.
What happens if chronic pharyngitis is left untreated?
In some cases, a chronic sore throat can have serious health consequences. So, it’s important to schedule a visit with your healthcare provider right away if you develop symptoms.
How can I reduce my risk for chronic pharyngitis?
You may not be able to prevent pharyngitis altogether. But there are steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk:
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Don’t share food, beverages or eating utensils.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Use antibacterial hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have chronic pharyngitis?
If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pharyngitis, your healthcare provider will talk to you in detail about your treatment options. They’ll also tell you what triggers to avoid, what lifestyle changes to make and which medications to take.
When can I go back to work or school?
You’ll need to wait until you’re no longer contagious. Ask your healthcare provider when it’s safe to return to normal activities.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you have a severe sore throat, you should seek medical care immediately — especially if your sore throat is accompanied by fever, difficulty swallowing or breathing problems. If you have a sore throat that’s lasted for more than seven to 10 days, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. The sooner you’re diagnosed, the sooner you can receive treatment and return to normal life.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A sore throat is a common but bothersome condition. When pharyngitis lingers, it can interfere with your routines and daily life. Chronic pharyngitis usually indicates another underlying issue. Your healthcare provider can find the answers to help you feel better soon.
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