A sore throat is uncomfortable and inconvenient symptom to live with; in some cases, it can be so severe as to interfere with daily activities by making it difficult or impossible to speak. It’s also a fairly common, and usually pretty vague, symptom – a sore throat can be caused by a virus, bacterial infection, allergies, or overuse.
The overlap in causes attributable to a sore throat often make it hard to determine what’s causing it, which can also make it difficult to decide what warrants a trip to the doctor’s office. The fact that most of the time, a sore throat is easily treated at home and will clear up on its own within three to seven days also contributes to the reluctance to seek medical treatment, as people may decide to wait and see what happens. The length of time it lasts is an important indication of a more serious source: if symptoms don’t improve after one to two weeks with home treatment, you may have an infection like strep, so see a doctor.
Examining any other symptoms that are occurring along with the throat pain is one of the best way to decide if you need more advanced medical treatment. A high fever – at or above 101 degrees Fahrenheit – is an important sign, as it can indicate a cold or the flu; if it’s a cold, medication won’t help, but a doctor will be able to test for influenza and provide appropriate treatment. Pain in other areas of the body such as a headache or abdominal cramping (as well as vomiting) can be cause for concern as well.
In severe cases, certain symptoms may require emergency treatment. If a patient shows signs of dehydration – extreme weakness, dry mouth, decreased urination – they may require treatment in a hospital. Painful swallowing so severe it causes drooling or inability to drink fluids also warrant immediate medical treatment.