Sore throats account for more than 13 million visits to doctor’s offices annually.
At Medinet Family Care Clinic, in Houston, Texas, Dr. Bharat Gandhi and his team offer both primary and urgent care providers certainly see their share.
A sore throat can have many causes. Should you wait yours out, or seek medical intervention. The Medinet team offers the following tips to help you decide.
Why do I have a sore throat?
Sore throats can be caused by many different conditions, some trivial and some serious. It’s important to understand which is which, so you’ll know when to seek medical help. Some of the major culprits include:
Your immune system protects your body from a wide variety of harmful substances, from environmental toxins to pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. However, sometimes it responds to a substance that should be innocuous, like pollen, pet dander, or certain foods. The substances that provoke the immune response are collectively called allergens.
Airborne allergies commonly cause symptoms that include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Sore throat
This type of allergic response causes relatively mild symptoms, including the sore throat. They’re most effectively handled with OTC allergy medications (antihistamines) and decongestants. If the symptoms become more severe, or if you have reactions to a large number of different allergens, you may need to see an allergist. In any event, the sore throat here is usually nothing to worry about.
Post nasal drip
A post nasal drip, also called rhinitis (from the Greek word for nose), is where excess mucus drains from the sinuses behind your nose and trickles down the back of your throat, often leading to a persistent sore or scratchy throat. Rhinitis can be caused by a wide number of things, including weather changes, allergies, spicy food, dry air, and sinus medications.
Along with the sore throat, symptoms of a post nasal drip include:
- Feeling you need to clear your throat persistently
- Coughing that worsens at night
- Lack of fever
- Halitosis (bad breath)
Post nasal drips are generally treated with OTC remedies, including sinus rinses or washes, or sometimes with prescription medications, depending on the severity. You may need to see a doctor for ongoing issues, but it’s almost never an emergency situation.
Colds and the flu
Sore throats can be caused either by a bacterial or viral infection. Colds and the flu both stem from viral infections. Colds may come from a rhinovirus, or sometimes a coronavirus, and flu comes from the influenza virus. In addition to the sore throat, both illnesses cause a runny nose, cough, body aches, and fatigue; you only get chills and a fever with the flu, though.
Both colds and influenza tax your immune systems, making them less efficient at fighting off other pathogens. If you have a sore throat with either condition, therefore, you have to consider you may have a secondary infection like a strep throat, caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria.
You’ll know you may have strep throat if you experience:
- Pain when swallowing
- Fever and chills
- A red, severely sore throat that comes on abruptly
- Pus on the tonsils
- Stomach ache
- A red rash (it’s related to scarlet fever)
If you suspect a strep throat, come in to see Dr. Gandhi. During your appointment, he takes a throat culture to determine if Streptococcus is to blame, or if it’s something else on the list of possibilities. Rapid strep tests can give him results within minutes, and if it’s strep, you can pick up your antibiotic on the way home.
When does a sore throat warrant a trip to the doctor?
Sore throats are uncomfortable, but as we’ve seen, not all require urgent doctor’s care. So when should you make an appointment with your doctor? As a rule, seek immediate treatment if, together with your sore throat, you have:
- A fever over 101˚F (38˚C)
- Swollen lymph glands
- Difficulty turning your head
- Pus on your tonsils
- Severe pain that makes eating, talking, or sleeping difficult
If you have a sore throat that’s preventing you from eating or swallowing, contact Dr. Gandhi as soon as possible for an urgent care appointment, especially if you suspect you’re experiencing anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction. If you’re in doubt whether your sore throat warrants a trip to the doctor, give the office a call, and we can advise you what to do.
For sore throats or other urgent care needs, or just for routine health care appointments, call us at 281-564-3300 to set up an appointment with Dr. Gandhi, or book online with us today. The sooner we can see you, the sooner you’ll feel better.