Is Your Sore Throat a Sign of Something Serious?

February 23, 2016

First Stop Health

5 times a year, you get to hear the moans and groans of your child suffering through a sore, swollen throat:

“Mooooooooooom. My throat huuuuuurts.”

Some 40 to 60% of the time sore throats are viral, and there’s simply not much you can do but wait it out. About once every four years, a sore throat is caused by strep, which can be treated with antibiotics.

If a sore throat is viral, there’s no magic cure. You can give kids some ibuprofen and try to get them to drink hot water or tea, but the pain just needs time to subside. You can’t wave a wand and get them back to school in a jiff. *Cue parental dread.*

Adults get sore throats, too. It could be from talking too much in a busy day at work, seasonal allergies, or even a pesky cold. But could your sore throat be warning you of a more serious issue?

Is It Serious?

About 15 million people in the U.S. will see a doctor for a sore throat this year. Most of these are viral cases--a simple but annoying rhinovirus that spreads quickly through offices, schools, and homes across the country. And to make matters worse, our immune systems are even weaker in the winter. So we catch them even easier!

If you do fall victim to the rhinovirus, you might have a hard time swallowing, lose your voice, and generally feel uncomfortable all day long. It’s not too bad at first, so you might fight it and keep your precious PTO for your summer vacation. You head into the office, not feeling “sick enough” to stay home from work, but your productivity is way, way down.

When common treatments like lozenges aren't working for 10+ days of this hazy misery, you can’t help but wonder if there is something more going on. Could it be strep? Or a bacterial infection?

A Hidden Danger

The reality is that only 10% of adults with these symptoms have a serious strep throat requiring antibiotic treatment –– but 70% of the 15 million sore throat sufferers will be prescribed an antibiotic.

Taking an antibiotic for a viral sore throat is dangerous. It builds resistance to the drug, and if you ever really do need an antibiotic, it may not be as effective.

While strep is more common for children (the cause of about 25% of their sore throats), you should still be cautious treating symptoms with antibiotics may very well be unnecessary.

This is what we want you to remember: an achy, annoying common cold is best fought with rest and fluids. If you jump straight to an antibiotic, you’re doing your immune system more harm than good.

How Telemedicine Can Help

telemedicine-sore-throatYour telemedicine physician can help you determine quickly whether you have a viral or bacterial illness––thank goodness! You can get a diagnosis (and fast). You may need to go get a strep culture if your First Stop Health physician recommends it, but if it's related to allergies, the flu, or can be deemed bacterial by the doctor, a prescription can be sent to your nearest pharmacy.

Even if there is no quick cure for your common, viral sore throat, your doctor can recommend over-the-counter solutions and health and wellness tips to make you more comfortable. They can suggest home remedies, like a nasal rinse or steamy shower, and medicines that could shorten the length of the cold and help you feel a bit more alert and well while you fight it.

A call to your telemedicine physician also gives you peace of mind and a resolution to a problem. You can get back to normal life with a treatment that you trust.

Whether it’s you or your child who gets struck by a common cold, it is probably not a sign of something more serious. And lucky for you, your telemedicine physician can give you health and wellness tips plus peace of mind without you having to leave your home.

Originally published Feb 23, 2016 1:00:00 PM.