As I write this, an ultra-dedicated Vitals employee named Nishan is sporting a surgical mask over his mouth and nose in an attempt to spare his co-workers from contracting his as yet unnamed illness. Among the many symptoms he’s experiencing (fever, coughing, sore throat), the most obvious is his raspy, hoarse voice. But as Nishan will attest, when a vaguely sore throat is your chief complaint, it can be hard to determine whether a trip to the doctor’s office is warranted. “I am sick, but I’m not sure if it’s a common cold or something else,” said Nishan.
Nishan isn’t planning on seeing a doctor at this time, instead opting to go home early to focus on resting and replenishing his fluids. For most cases of sore throat, that’s exactly what you should do. But there are some signs to look for that suggest your sore throat is something more serious.
Here’s what to know about sore throats:
- Sore throats are usually caused by a viral (most common) or bacterial infection (less common).
- Viral sore throats don’t require medical treatment other than over-the-counter pain remedies and rest.
- A sore throat caused by a bacterial infection is usually caused by the A streptococcus bacterium (strep throat). This type of infection requires treatment with antibiotics.
A viral sore throat is often accompanied by an upper respiratory infection and common cold symptoms. It can even be caused by the flu. The following symptoms suggest a viral sore throat:
- A runny or congested nose
- Irritated or red eyes
- Cough, hoarseness, or soreness in the roof of the mouth
Strep throat is usually characterized by the following symptoms (if you have two or more of these symptoms, it’s recommended that you see your doctor for a strep test):
- Throat pain
- Fever (temperature greater than 100.4)
- Enlarged lymph glands in the neck
- White patches of pus on the side or back of the throat
- No cough, runny nose, or irritated/red eyes
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rash
- Drooling because you cannot swallow
- Swelling of the neck or tongue
- Stiff neck or difficulty opening your mouth
- Underlying chronic illness/medication that may impair your immune system
Nishan’s preferred sore throat remedy is a spoonful of sesame tahini with a spoonful of honey. Do you have an at-home remedy you swear by? Tell us about it!