Is it a sore throat, strep throat, or COVID? Learn symptoms, remedies, and when it's time to call the doctor.
by Featured Provider Michael Sinklier on Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Since sore throats are one of the many symptoms of COVID-19, it can be easy to panic at the first sign of a scratchy or sore throat. Knowing what to look for, and when to call your doctor or visit an urgent care center can help put your mind at ease.
Say you wake up one morning with that familiar, scratchy throat. It’s very sore and you find yourself reaching for the throat lozenges, or, for a more severe case, some throat-numbing spray. Maybe you try hot tea with lemon or honey, and nothing is really working. How do you know when a sore throat is a sign of something more?
Symptoms of a sore throat virus or infection
According to the Mayo Clinic, common sore throat symptoms include a scratchy or painful sensation, a hoarse voice and sometimes, swollen red tonsils or swollen glands in your neck. Sore throats have many causes - everything from overuse or improper use of one’s voice, to a common cold virus, to an infection such as strep throat, and of course - it’s also one symptom of Coronavirus.
So when is it time to see the doctor? When can a sore throat be a sign of something more serious? If you’re noticing any of these sore throat symptoms, it’s time to talk to a doctor.
- Sore throats lasting more than a week
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Swelling in your neck
- Fever above 101 degrees Farenheit
- Joint pain or earaches
Visit your primary care physician, an urgent care clinic, or make an appointment for COVID-19 testing if you feel you or a family member is suffering with an unusual or long-lasting sore throat.
“It’s best to be safe, so we encourage our patients to call us or visit with any concerns, especially with COVID-19 variants on the rise,” notes Dr. Michael Sinklier, DO, Family Medicine practitioner at Iowa Clinic.
“Sore throats can be incredibly painful, and it’s natural to want a quick-fix solution like an antibiotic. However, most sore throats don’t require, and won’t benefit from, an antibiotic, unless it’s strep throat,” notes Dr. Sinklier.
Treating a sore throat
For viral sore throats not caused by a bacterial infection, you can try pain relievers such as Tylenol, Children’s Tylenol or aspirin to help manage the pain. Be sure not to give aspirin to children or teenagers, however, as it can lead to side effects such as Reye’s Syndrome, a rare but dangerous condition. Viral sore throats tend to clear up in about 5 to 7 days on average, and often do not require a visit to the doctor.
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You can also try throat lozenges and sipping tea with honey as sore throat remedies. Humidifiers can be great sore throat remedies for children, and it can also be helpful to gargle with salt, to help break up any mucus in the throat.
If a throat culture reveals that it’s strep throat, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat it. This course of treatment typically lasts 10 days, and it’s very important to be sure to take every dose of the antibiotic, for all 10 days - even if you or your child is feeling better in just a few days.
Sore throat, strep throat, or COVID-19? How do I know?
If you or a family member are suffering with a sore throat for a few days that’s getting worse, is combined with other symptoms, or hasn’t gone away despite all of the sore throat remedies you’ve tried, contact your primary care provider or visit your local urgent care center.
The good news is that the majority of sore throats are not a sign of something more serious, and that often, Mom or Dad’s tried-and-true sore throat remedies are enough to do the trick.