A throat infection is a general term describing a disease affecting the area of and surrounding the throat. Commonly known as a sore throat, this condition is most commonly caused by bacteria or viruses. It has been estimated that a throat infection is one of the top ten reasons that people visit emergency rooms for treatment.
When a virus or bacteria infects the throat, it causes a painful inflammation of the tissue in the throat area. This causes symptoms such as scratchiness of throat, redness and swelling of the throat, pain, hoarseness of the voice, coughing, and pain when swallowing. Other symptoms of a infection in the throat may include stuffy nose, runny nose, and redness of the eyes, headache and fever.
The majority of sore throats are caused by viral infections, and most of these typically run its course within three to six days. Viral infections are not treatable with antibiotics. However, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic treatment if the viral infection is also accompanied by a bacterial infection. Treatment for a sore throat caused by a virus generally consist of drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, and taking medication such as acetaminophen, and ibuprofen that help to provide relief from the symptoms of the infection.
Mononucleosis, also known as mono, is an example of an infection caused by a virus. Symptoms of mononucleosis include those listed above, along with fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. Unlike most common sore throats, symptoms of mononucleosis can linger for an extended period of time.
A patient with a bacterial infection may be prescribed antibiotics by his or her doctor. Bacteria are living microorganisms that can be killed through the use of antibiotics. Viruses cannot be killed with antibiotics because they are not living organisms, but rather a capsule of genetic material. While bacteria can reproduce and multiply on their own, viruses cannot. Viruses infect and take over a host cell, reprogramming the cell to reproduce the virus.
Antibiotics may help hasten recovery and reduce the period of time that the infected person is contagious to others. In addition to any prescribed medications, many doctors will also recommend that a patient with a bacterial throat infection get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, gargle with warm salt water, and use a humidifier.
Strep throat is an example of a bacterial throat infection. It is known as strep throat because the bacteria that causes it is called streptococcus. While strep throat is not generally harmful, if left untreated it can lead to other conditions such as rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, and tonsillitis. When a doctor suspects that a patient may have strep throat, a rapid strep test, or a throat culture will be done to check for the presence of streptococcus. The rapid strep test is not as accurate as a throat culture, but results can be received within 15 minutes. In contrast, it can take up to two days to receive results from a throat culture.
A patient with a sore throat accompanied by a high fever and difficulty breathing or swallowing should contact a doctor right away. If a sore throat is accompanied with a low grade fever, a doctor should be contacted if symptoms do not get better within a day or two. It may also be a good idea to visit a doctor if an infection is not accompanied by other sinus symptoms, if it hurts to swallow liquids, or if throat pain lasts for more than a week.