Sore throats abound in cold, flu, and allergy season. Do you know when you should put up with a sore throat, take a pain reliever, or see a doctor?
"Most sore throats are viral," says Timothy Doran, M.D., a Baltimore pediatrician. In fact, about 90 percent of sore throats come from viral infections, like colds or flu. Signs include hoarseness, coughing, eye irritation, a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, aches, and pains.
Antibiotics for strep
Doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat sore throats caused by streptococcus (strep throat), the only common bacterially caused sore throat. Left untreated, strep can damage the heart valves and kidneys and cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections. So it's vital for patients to take the antibiotic "for the entire prescribed length of time, even if they're feeling better," Dr. Doran says.
But some of us overuse antibiotics—and they won't help a sore throat caused by a virus. Don't take antibiotics unless your doctor prescribes them, even if you have leftover pills from an earlier illness.
See your doctor when your sore throat is severe, lasts longer than the usual five to seven days of a cold or flu, or isn't linked to an allergy or irritation. Other signs to visit a doctor include swollen lymph glands; trouble breathing, swallowing, or opening your mouth; a rash; a high fever; blood in your phlegm; headache; and nausea or vomiting.
How to treat a mild sore throat
Drink plenty of liquids.
Use a steamer or humidifier in your bedroom.
Drink warm tea with honey.
Gargle several times a day with a mixture of 1/2 cup of warm water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.