The 3 different types of sore throat and the best way to treat each one | The Sun

IT'S that time of the year when all sorts of lurgies seem to be floating around, and a sore throat is just one symptom of these.

If you've got a case of the sore throat, that might mean it's painful to swallow, feels scratchy and you may even have a mild cough.

But this common winter affliction can have all sorts of causes.

And each type of sore throat will require a different form of treatment.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and clinical consultant to, and Dr Leyla Hannbeck, pharmacist and chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told Sun Health there are three types of sore throat:

  • Laryngitis
  • Pharyngitis
  • Tonsillitis



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You might notice that the conditions listed here all end in ‘-itis’.

This is "the medical word for inflammation", according to Dr Jarvis.

"The type of -itis’ you have when you have a sore throat depends on which bit of your throat is infected," she explained.

According to the doc, all three types can can cause a sore, dry, irritated throat and sometimes a fever.

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"You may also have a runny nose, cough and cold-like symptoms," she added.

But there may be some differences in symptoms too.

1. Laryngitis

Laryngitis means inflammation of the larynx – also known as your voice box, as it makes it possible for you to make sounds.

You larynx is a hollow tube in the middle of your neck, that sits just above your windpipe and behind your oesophagus – the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.

Aside from helping you speak, the larynx lets air pass through your windpipe – known as the trachea – into your lungs.

Laryngitis is "usually associated with loss of voice, hoarseness, sore throat, cough and sometimes fever," Dr Hannbeck said.

And according to Dr Jarvis, "you’re more likely to have a dry, tickly cough and a hoarse voice" with this type of sore throat.

2. Pharyngitis

Pharyngitis is inflammation at the back of the throat, known as the pharynx, Dr Jarvis said.

This is the part of the throat behind the mouth and nasal cavity.

The GP explained that "you’ll often have more pain and you may have painful swollen glands in your neck" with pharyngitis.

Jacquie Lee, information pharmacist at Numark, said the following symptoms are typical of this type of sore throat:

  • A sore or scratchy throat 
  • Swallowing that's uncomfortable or painful 
  • The back of the throat may appear red and swollen
  • Hoarseness or temporary loss of voice due to inflammation of the vocal cords
  • A dry or productive cough
  • Fever in some cases

3. Tonsilitis

"Tonsillitis, which is probably the best known, is inflammation of the tonsils," according to Dr Jarvis.

"These are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth and top of the throat, which help filter out bacteria and viruses to stop them getting deeper into your body."

Like pharyngitis, you might experience some additional pain and swollen glands in your neck

"You may also have white spots on the back of your throat if you shine a torch in through your mouth," the GP said.

Dr Hannbeck said the condition is particularly common in children.

"Symptoms include sore throat and pain when swallowing, red tonsils, headache, coughing and sometimes a fever," she explained.

Meanwhile, Jacquie added that people with tonsillitis might also have "foul smelling breath".

Dr Hannbeck said most tonsillitis cases get better within a week, but in some instances "it could be a chronic condition which means that it will last longer or keep returning".

"Sometimes tonsillitis can unfortunately cause complications such as white puss-filed abscess in the throat or middle ear infection," she went on.

"In rare cases, if the bacterial infection is left untreated, the complications can result in conditions such as Scarlet fever and rheumatic fever."

What causes a sore throat?

Dr Jarvis told The Sun: "Most cases of pharyngitis, laryngitis and tonsillitis are caused by virus infections."

But your sore throat can also be triggered by bacteria, as well as environmental irritants like smoke and dry air, or excessive use of your vocal cords.

Dr Hannbeck said: "Laryngitis is usually caused by a virus, or in rare cares by bacteria or fungus."

She added that "overuse of the vocal cords – for example shouting or screaming – sinus problems, allergic reactions, gastroesophageal reflux, smoking or vaping" can also be the cause.

Jacquie said pharyngitis can be caused by viral infections, such as the common cold, influenza, or the Epstein-Barr virus, which is associated with infectious mononucleosis.

But she added that streptococcus bacteria – particularly Group A Streptococcus – can cause bacterial pharyngitis, commonly known as strep throat.

Smoke, pollution, or allergens can contribute to pharyngeal irritation, Jacquie went on, as can breathing dry air in heated indoor spaces.

As for tonsillitis, this can be caused by a bacterial infection, leading to an infection commonly known as strep throat, Dr Jarvis said.

Group A Streptococcus is often the culprit for this too.

How can I treat my sore throat?

The way you treat your sore throat often depends more on the cause rather than the location of the inflammation.

"It is important to note that antibiotics do not work on viruses," Dr Jarvis noted.

With viral infections, "your immune system should fight the infection off within a few days", the GP added.

"In the meantime, simple painkillers, lots of fluids and perhaps an anaesthetic throat spray from your pharmacist will help."

Jacquie suggested the following ways to treat a sore throat caused by a virus:

  • Drinking well (two to three litres a day) and keeping hydrated – but avoid hot fluids as they may make it worse 
  • Eating soft foods to reduce discomfort 
  • Throat sprays or lozenges 
  • Simple painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain and fever 
  • Gargling with salt water
  • Taking aspirin if you are at least 16 years old and have no allergies 

She said most sore throats tend to get better in about a week.

Dr Hannbeck said drinking tea with honey and lemon can help soothe pharyngitis, as well as throat lozenges, pain killers and steam inhalation.

If your sore throat is confirmed to be caused by bacteria, then you may need antibiotics to treat it.

Dr Jarvis recommended you see your doctor if you have at least three of these symptoms:

  • Sore throat without cough
  • Fever
  • Tender painful glands in your neck
  • White spots on your tonsils

"You should seek urgent help if you’re having problems swallowing saliva or breathing, difficulty opening your mouth, or a severe illness – especially if the pain is on one side of your throat," the GP added.

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