When should you see a doctor for a sore throat?


You know what it’s like. You wake up one morning and it hurts to swallow or the back of your throat feels like sandpaper. Chances are you’re coming down with a cold and you’ll just have to let it runs its course.

But what if your sore throat lingers or feels different somehow? When is it wise to have it checked out to make sure it’s not a sign of something more serious? For the answer, I turned to Dr. Molly O’Malley, a primary care physician at Mercy Yarmouth.

Dr. Molly O'Malley/sore throat

Molly O’Malley, DO

A sore throat or pharyngitis is often caused by a bacteria or virus. There are other causes as well, but these are the most common causes of an acute sore throat. Some of the other causes include allergies and acid reflux.

When you have a virus, treatment is supportive, meaning you do not need antibiotics. You will usually have other symptoms accompanying this, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, fatigue, cough, chest congestion.

In regards to a bacterial cause, our main concern is strep throat. If not treated, it can lead to complications, so this does require antibiotics. Usually, with strep throat, you will have the white patches on the back of your throat, high fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above), swollen lymph nodes in your neck and absence of other symptoms (no cough, no nasal congestion). Mono can mimic these symptoms as well.

When to seek care: If you have a high fever with a sore throat and absence of other cold-like symptoms, I would recommend evaluation for strep and/or mono. A persistent sore throat should be evaluated as well as it could be from another source as mentioned above such as allergies or acid reflux.

Urgent care should be sought if you have a sore throat with swelling that is impairing your breathing or have difficulty swallowing with drooling.

Sore throat remedies

Looking for a sore throat home remedy? I’ve got some for you.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.