Sore throat? When should you seek medical care?

Although sore throats can be caused by a number of things, when you’re suffering from itchy, burning, can’t-even-sip-water pain, the reason doesn’t really matter. You simply want your sore throat to get treated, and you want it now.

With every grandma offering her own family remedy, and the internet full of advice, it can be confusing to know what to do for sore throat treatment. We are here to provide clarity on what to do if you have a sore throat.

When to seek medical care for sore throat

You should see your healthcare provider or visit an urgent care clinic if any of these applies to you:

  • Your sore throat does not get better in a few days.
  • You develop a rash or joint pain.
  • Your symptoms worsen.
  • You have a fever of more than 101 degrees that lasts longer than one to two days.
  • You have difficulty swallowing liquids or trouble breathing because your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils or adenoids.

Should I get antibiotics?

These symptoms could mean that you have a bacterial infection. If your sore throat is bacterial (like strep throat), your healthcare provider will likely prescribe antibiotics. However, if your sore throat is the result of a viral illness such as the common cold, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.

How do I manage my symptoms at home prior to seeing a medical professional?

In most cases, your sore throat will improve with at-home sore throat remedies such as these:

  • Gargling with warm salt water
  • Using throat lozenges
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Using a low-temperature air humidifier
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen

Both viral and bacterial sore throats, like strep, are contagious. However, you can prevent transmission to others by washing your hands more often and not sharing cups and utensils. If your child has a severe sore throat and a fever, then he or she should be seen by a healthcare provider and kept home from school.

Causes of sore throat

While most sore throats are caused by viruses and resolve on their own within 7-10 days, there are other causes of sore throats that require special attention and treatment to make sure the condition resolves and to prevent potentially serious complications. Here are four causes of sore throats you should know about.

1) Streptococcus

Strep throat is the most common bacterial cause of sore throats, accounting for up to 30% of sore throats in children, and up to 10% of sore throats in adults. While there are multiple strains of this bacteria, Group A strep is the most concerning because if it’s not treated with antibiotics it can lead to a more serious condition called rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic fever can affect the joints, skin, heart, and brain. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, joint swelling, fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, a rash and jerky muscle movements called chorea.

If a provider suspects a patient may have strep throat, they can run a rapid strep test, which runs in a few minutes and has a 90-95% sensitivity rate. If a rapid strep test is negative but the suspicion for strep is high, a provider can send a second swab to the lab for a throat culture, which provides a result within a few days and captures the cases of strep a rapid test may have missed.

2) Mono

Mono, short for mononucleosis, is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Symptoms of mono include a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fever and fatigue. The rate of mono is highest in young people ages 15-24. The nickname of this infection is “The Kissing Disease” because it’s commonly transmitted via contact with an infected person’s saliva.

In some cases, the symptoms of mono are debilitating and last for months. In other cases, the symptoms can be so subtle, patients don’t even know they were infected. In fact, around 90% of adults in the U.S. have antibodies against EBV, though only about 10% of them have ever received a formal mono diagnosis.

While there’s no specific treatment for mono, symptoms can often be relieved with medication for pain, fever, and inflammation. Also, mono can cause swelling of the spleen, so patients with an active infection should avoid any high-impact activities like contact sports because they’re at an increased risk of a splenic rupture if they sustain abdominal trauma.

3) Allergies

Seasonal allergies can cause a persistent sore or scratchy throat that lasts for weeks or months if the underlying allergy isn’t addressed. A sore throat can result from post-nasal drip, where excess fluid from the nose drips down the back of the throat and makes the throat raw and sore. Or allergies can cause inflammation along the throat and upper airway.

In addition to a sore throat, patients with allergies often experience sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, and a runny nose or itching. These symptoms usually improve with antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays and avoiding known allergic triggers.

4)Sexually transmitted infections

Several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause a sore throat. Gonorrhea and chlamydia throat infections can be contracted by giving oral sex to an infected partner. Symptoms include throat pain, throat swelling, white spots (called exudate) on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and a fever.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are diagnosed on a throat swab that’s sent to a lab. Patients with chlamydia are usually treated with an oral antibiotic, and patients with gonorrhea are usually treated with an antibiotic injection.

HIV is another STI that can cause a sore throat. In addition to a sore throat, patients with a new HIV infection can also experience a fever, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, and a rash. HIV can be diagnosed on a rapid HIV test, or by a blood test sent to the lab that results within a few days. HIV is typically treated with long-term oral antiviral medications.

Visit urgent care for sore throat treatment

Strep throat, if left untreated, could lead to significant complications. If there is no improvement in your symptoms in a few days, come see the experts at our urgent care locations. Our healthcare providers are trained to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication as needed to treat your sore throat. With an onsite lab at every center, rapid strep testing is available after an evaluation.

We are open seven days a week and equipped to help adults and children. You can walk in without an appointment, or you can check in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.