Know the warning signs when to call the doctor if your sore throat persists
Not only are sore throats painful, but they also are one of the top reasons for doctor visits and sick days.
It starts as a persistent tickle in the back of your throat before the sensation progresses into a prickly sensation every time you swallow. The trick to treating a sore throat is knowing when it’s time to make the transition from at-home therapy to seeing the doctor.
“A sore throat can be caused by any number of factors, including a common cold, low humidity, smoking, air pollution, yelling, or nasal drainage,” says Brett M. Scotch, DO, an osteopathic physician from Wesley Chapel, Florida.
There are other less common causes for a sore throat, which can include strep throat, mononucleosis (otherwise known as “mono”) or tonsillitis.
When it come to treating a sore throat, you can try:
- Gargling at least once an hour with warm salt water to reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Drinking hot fluids such as tea or soup, which soothe the throat and help thin sinus mucus allowing for better drainage and decreased stuffiness.
- Stopping smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Taking nonprescription medications, such as throat lozenges, decongestants, acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
Seeing a physician
In most cases, your sore throat will improve with at-home treatment. However, it’s time to see your doctor if a severe sore throat and a fever over 101 degrees lasts longer than one to two days; you have difficulty sleeping because your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils or adenoids; or a red rash appears.
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it could mean that you have a bacterial infection. In that case, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat your infection.
“For adults who have repeated bacterial throat infections within a relatively short period of time, a physician may recommend a tonsillectomy,” says Dr. Scotch.
Your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy (the surgical removal of the tonsils) if:
- Abscesses of the tonsils do not respond to drainage.
- There is a persistent foul odor or taste in the mouth that does not respond to antibiotics.
- A biopsy is needed to evaluate a suspected tumor of the tonsil.
“However, a tonsillectomy should always be the last resort for treating sore throats,” warns Dr. Scotch. “The best treatment for a sore throat is prevention.”
You can prevent a sore throat by replacing your toothbrush every month and tossing an old toothbrush once you’ve recovered from a sore throat to prevent re-infection. You should also refrain from smoking, which can be abrasive to the throat.
“Be sure to wash your hands often, eat right and get plenty of sleep,” advises Dr. Scotch.