A sore throat can be caused by throat irritation, a virus, or bacterial infection. All of them are painful, but it helps to know which one you’re dealing with.
Diagnosing Your Sore Throat
If you visit a healthcare provider for your sore throat, the physician will:
Look at the throat using a lighted instrument, as well as the ears and nasal passages.
Feel the neck to check for swollen lymph nodes (glands).
Listen to your breathing with a stethoscope.
The doctor may also take a swab of your throat.
A virus is the most common cause of a sore throat. Often, a viral sore throat is accompanied by a runny nose, cough, red or watery eyes, and sneezing.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for viral sore throats (or the common cold), but you can make it less painful.
- Drink warm liquids.
- Gargle with warm salt water.
- Suck on ice chips or popsicles.
- Take an over the counter pain reliever and fever reducer.
- Use a humidifier to keep the air moist.
Since your sore throat is probably due to a cold, you also need to drink plenty of fluids, rest, and eat a healthy diet. Some cold medications work better if you drink plenty of water and it will help you feel better, too.
One of the most common bacterial causes of a sore throat is due to the Streptococcus bacteria, a condition known as strep throat. Strep throat spreads through contact with an infected person’s nasal secretions or saliva. Strep throat is more common in children ages five to fifteen, but adults can catch it, too.
You might suspect strep if you have these symptoms:
- Sudden and severe sore throat that rapidly worsens
- Loss of appetite
- Red tonsils with white spots
- Painful swallowing
Strep throat is diagnosed by taking a swab of the back of your throat for a rapid strep test performed right in the office. Sometimes a physician can diagnose it merely from the symptoms, especially when the throat is bright red and covered in white spots. The lymph nodes in your neck may also be swollen.
Sometimes the throat swab will be sent to a laboratory to for culture if the strep test is negative, but the doctor still suspects a bacterial infection.
Left untreated, strep throat can develop into rheumatic fever, which could harm the valves of your heart. If you suspect strep throat, see your physician as soon as possible. Properly treated with the right antibiotics, your sore throat is usually cured within 10 days.
Always finish your antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better. If your sore throat does not seem to be going away, call your healthcare provider immediately, but do not stop your medication unless your physician tells you to.
Your tonsils are in charge of fighting infection, but sometimes they get infected, too. The infection can be viral or bacterial. The tonsils become swollen, and you may have other symptoms.
- Bad breath
- Voice changes due to swelling
- Swollen lymph glands in the neck
- Painful swallowing
Treatment for tonsillitis is the same as with any other sore throat. Bacterial infections are treated and antibiotics. Otherwise rest, fluids, and sucking on ice or something cold usually help.
Sometimes your throat gets sore for other reasons.
- Irritants in the air
- Breathing dry air
Don’t hesitate to call your primary healthcare provider or Legacy ER & Urgent Care if you have any concerns.