Your throat is aching and scratchy and you’d like some relief from the pain — but how do you know when it’s worth making a trip to the doctor’s office?
Start by identifying your other symptoms, which can help tell you what the cause of your sore throat may be. If you have cold or flu symptoms like fever, body aches or headaches, fatigue, or a cough and a runny nose, it’s usually a sign of infection. Unfortunately, there’s no medication or treatment your doctor can provide for a viral infection like the common cold or influenza, but for a bacterial infection — strep throat is most common — they may be able to prescribe antibiotics. Signs of strep throat include visibly swollen, red tonsils which often have white or yellow patches on them, or noticeable pus; you may also have symptoms like fever and a stomachache or nausea.
A sore throat often makes it painful or uncomfortable to swallow, but if the pain and swelling in your throat gets so bad that it becomes difficult or nearly impossible to swallow, you should see your doctor. If it interferes with your breathing, especially at night, it’s worth a visit as well. In children, be on the lookout for unusual drooling, as this can be a sign that they aren’t able to swallow properly.
A skin rash can be a sign of a more serious infection, or scarlet fever. If you develop a red rash with a sandpaper-like texture or pattern, see your doctor for testing.
The length of time symptoms last depends on the cause of your throat pain (allergies will clear up with medication or when you’re not exposed to the allergen, while a viral or bacterial infection will take anywhere from 3 days to a week to heal), but long-lasting symptoms can be a worrisome sign. If your symptoms persist more than a week, call your doctor; do the same if you were diagnosed with strep throat and haven’t improved within 2 days of beginning antibiotics.
A sore throat accompanied by symptoms like joint pain, shortness of breath, general weakness, and muscle spasms or jerking can indicate complications such as rheumatic fever. A fever above 101 degrees, earaches, lumps in the throat or neck, and blood in your saliva or mucus are also serious signs and should be addressed by a medical professional.