Understanding Nasopharyngitis: Causes, Treatment, Prevention, and More

Nasopharyngitis (AH-soo-fay-nuh) is a condition characterized by inflammation of the nasal passages. It is caused by several factors including viral infections, bacterial infections, and irritants such as pollen or dust. Acute nasopharyngitis may occur without any identifiable cause other than exposure to these agents. [1] The most common causes are influenza viruses and certain types of bacteria. The symptoms include runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and sometimes coughing. They usually resolve within one week. [2]

Acute nasopharyngitis is not contagious; however it can spread from person to person through contact with infected secretions or mucus. Acute nasopharyngitis may lead to complications such as pneumonia and sinus infections.[3] There are no specific treatments for acute nasopharyngitis.

Symptoms of Nasopharyngitis

The following table summarizes some of the symptoms associated with acute nasopharyngitis. Symptoms may vary depending upon the type of infection causing the condition.

Symptom Description Sore throat Painful swallowing or a feeling of something stuck in the throat. There may also be some pain on the sides of the throat.

Congestion/Blockage Feeling like there is a blockage in the nose and/or throat. This may be accompanied by postnasal drip. Runny Nose The most common symptom of acute nasopharyngitis. It is characterized by excessive secretions and discharge from one or both nostrils. Sneezing The sudden involuntary contraction of the nostrils which results in a quick jerking motion of the head or neck. It is usually caused by foreign objects (e.g., dust) or air flow through the nostrils. Coughing Usually a coordinated muscular effort that enables an individual to quickly draw air into the lungs and expel it out. Involuntary watery eyes The eyes constantly feel like they are tearing up. This may be caused by infection or allergies. Stuffy nose Difficulty in breathing through the nose.

The above symptoms are also common to other types of infections and are not exclusive to acute nasopharyngitis (i.e., a runny nose may also be caused by a common cold).

Nasopharyngitis is a type of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). Other types of URTI include the common cold and influenza.

Cause of Nasopharyngitis

Acute nasopharyngitis (rhinopharyngitis) is caused by a number of factors, the most common causes are:

Viral infection (most common cause)

Bacterial infection (less common cause)

Allergies (less common cause)

Risk Factors of Acute Nasopharyngitis

The risk factors of acute nasopharyngitis include:

Exposure to a virus or bacteria

Exposure to irritants (e.g., smoke, dust, pollen, animal dander)

Having an impaired immune system due to a condition or medication

Having another illness (e.g., a common cold or the flu)

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Nasopharyngitis

The signs and symptoms of acute nasopharyngitis are summarized in the table below.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Nasopharyngitis Type of sign or symptom Duration of sign or symptom Runs its course within a week Prompt treatment will shorten the duration of the condition, but no cure is known. Some signs and symptoms may include: headache, sore throat, fever, cough, runny nose, and congestion.

Diagnosis of Acute Nasopharyngitis

Your physician will ask about your medical history and give a physical examination.

Tests to determine the cause of the infection may include:

Culture from throat or nose secretion – may be taken if your doctor suspects an infection due to bacteria

Examine a sample of mucus (sniffed up with a dropper) under a microscope to see if there are white blood cells and bacteria, which would confirm an infection

Antibody blood test

Treatment of Acute Nasopharyngitis

There is no cure for acute nasopharyngitis (the common cold). However, your physician may provide symptomatic treatment which may include the following:

Relieving nasal and/or throat congestion with decongestants or saline solution

Giving antibiotics if your doctor suspects a bacterial infection

Giving an analgesic for headache or body aches (pain relievers)

Giving an expectorant to loosen mucus in the lungs and promote its expulsion (cough medicine)

Giving an anti-allergy medication for symptoms caused by allergies.

Home Care and Prevention of Acute Nasopharyngitis

The following measures may help to relieve the symptoms of acute nasopharyngitis:

Drink plenty of water and other fluids to keep yourself well hydrated.

Rest as much as possible.

Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke, dust, and other airborne particles because these irritants will worsen your symptoms. If you must be around such things, wear a surgical mask.

Wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading the infection to others or vice versa.

If your symptoms do not improve within a week, contact your physician. He or she may prescribe an antibiotic if they suspect that you have a bacterial infection in addition to the common cold.

The common cold usually runs its course within one week. However, there are steps you can take to prevent reinfection (the virus may still be present even if you are no longer experiencing any symptoms).

The steps you can take to prevent reinfection are:

Practice good hand washing techniques.

Try to avoid close contact with people who have a cold. If you know someone with a cold, keep your distance (cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hand).

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread through contact can lead to reinfection.

Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins.

Home Treatment for the Common Cold

There are some steps you can take at home to make yourself more comfortable while you have a cold:

Drink plenty of fluids.

Get plenty of rest.

Use over-the-counter (OTC) medication for fever and aches if needed. Always read labels and follow instructions carefully.

Use a humidifier in your home or your bedroom to make breathing easier.

If you have a cough, do not smoke or be around secondhand smoke. This may make your cough worse.

Wrap up warm if you feel cold.

Rest your voice if you have a cough and need to speak.

Rest your eyes if they are sore.

The above steps should make you more comfortable while you have a cold. If you would like to learn more about the common cold or acute nasopharyngitis, speak to your doctor.

Acute Nasopharyngitis (The Common Cold)

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, and behind the nose).

Acute nasopharyngitis is a virus. This means that antibiotics cannot treat it.

Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections.

Most cases of acute nasopharyngitis are caused by one of more than a dozen related viruses. The “common cold” is really a blanket name for this group of related viruses.

The viruses that cause acute nasopharyngitis are very contagious and spread by direct contact with an infected person. The viruses can also survive outside the body for short periods of time.

For example, you may get this infection by being in a room where an infected person has been and then touching your eyes or nose.

Acute nasopharyngitis viruses may also spread by airborne droplets in a large enclosed space, such as on a plane or bus.

Some people are more likely to develop acute nasopharyngitis than others. This includes people who:

Shared living spaces with someone infected with acute nasopharyngitis virus within the preceding two weeks.

Attend college, especially during the first semester.

Work in health care or child care.

Have a reduced immunity, such as people with cancer or HIV infection.

People at high risk of developing complications from acute nasopharyngitis virus include:

Children under age two.

Elderly people.

Pregnant women.


Acute nasopharyngitis generally begins like the common cold. You may have symptoms such as:

Coughing, which may produce mucus (sputum).


Runny nose (rhinorrhea).

Sore throat.


Reduced appetite.

Fatigue (tiredness).


Swollen lymph nodes (“glands”) in the neck.

If you have acute nasopharyngitis, the symptoms may last for one week or longer. The symptoms may seem to go away and then come back.

Less commonly, you may experience some hearing loss or temporary blindness.

If you have a weakened immune system, you may develop other complications, such as pneumonia.

Most of the time, the virus that causes acute nasopharyngitis is not serious and most people recover fully within 10 days.

Antibiotics are not used to treat acute nasopharyngitis because they do not work against viruses.

You can reduce your risk of getting acute nasopharyngitis by practicing good hygiene, such as:

Staying home when you are sick.

Refraining from kissing friends or relatives.

Cleaning hard surfaces and objects that may have been touched by an infected person’s nasal secretions, such as door handles.

Washing your hands after contact with an infected person or a contaminated object.

Washing your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Acute nasopharyngitis may be prevented by getting a vaccine that is approved for this use. This vaccine is called “Fluenz.” It is a flu vaccine that also protects against acute nasopharyngitis.

Source: NIH/NCBI