Pharyngitis: Approach to diagnosis and treatment

Can Fam Physician. 2020 Apr;66(4):251-257.


Objective: To provide family physicians with an updated approach to diagnosis and treatment of pharyngitis, detailing key symptoms, methods of investigation, and a summary of common causes.

Sources of information: The approach described is based on the authors' clinical practice and peer-reviewed literature from 1989 to 2018.

Main message: Sore throat caused by pharyngitis is commonly seen in family medicine clinics and is caused by inflammation of the pharynx and surrounding tissues. Pharyngitis can be caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. Viral causes are often self-limiting, while bacterial and fungal infections typically require antimicrobial therapy. Rapid antigen detection tests and throat cultures can be used with clinical findings to identify the inciting organism. Pharyngitis caused by Streptococcus pyogenes is among the most concerning owing to its associated severe complications such as acute rheumatic fever and glomerulonephritis. Hence, careful diagnosis of pharyngitis is necessary to provide targeted treatment.

Conclusion: A thorough history is key to diagnosing pharyngitis. Rapid antigen detection tests should be reserved for concerns about antibiotic initiation. Physicians should exercise restraint in antibiotic initiation for pharyngitis, as restraint does not delay recovery or increase the risk of S pyogenes infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Pharyngitis* / diagnosis
  • Pharyngitis* / drug therapy
  • Rheumatic Fever*
  • Streptococcal Infections* / diagnosis
  • Streptococcal Infections* / drug therapy
  • Streptococcus pyogenes


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents