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When Should You See Your Doctor for a Sore Throat?

March 24th, 2009

strep-throat-diagnosis.JPGToday’s health-related article by Dr. Kristie Leong provides some useful tips regarding the symptoms and diagnosis of strep throat infections. By being able to differentiate between the annoying but usually harmless viral sore throats and the potentially more dangerous versions caused by bacteria, we can determine whether or not medical attention and the use of antibiotics is really necessary.

There’s nothing fun about having a sore throat. Although most cases of sore throat are caused by a virus and will resolve on their own within a week, in certain situations you’ll want to rule out a strep infection. It’s fairly common in the late winter and early spring for a strep infection of the throat to be the cause of throat pain and you may need antibiotic treatment to prevent potential step throat complications. Do you know when you should see your doctor for a sore throat?

There are certain signs and symptoms that increase the likelihood your sore throat is caused by a strep infection. Most cases of viral sore throat are associated with relatively mild symptoms. You may have a low grade fever, dry cough, or nasal congestion along with the throat pain. With a strep infection, the fever is generally 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher with minimal cough and nasal congestion. A strep-related sore throat may be quite severe and is sometimes associated with pus, swelling, or red spots on the back of the throat and tonsils. The lymph nodes may feel enlarged and tender. These symptoms aren’t as commonly seen with a viral sore throat and certainly suggest the possibility of a strep infection.

Even though these signs and symptoms may be suggestive of a strep infection, strep can be present without all of these symptoms. This means that a sore throat that lasts longer than five to seven days should be seen by a doctor. In some cases, mononucleosis can be present with symptoms similar to a strep infection; if this is not present, a competent doctor should be able to rule out this diagnosis.

Why is it so important that you see your doctor if you suspect a strep infection? Even though most strep infections resolve within five days without antibiotics, it’s important that it gets treated because in certain cases serious complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney disease can result if the infection is left untreated. Why take a chance with your health?

The bottom line? If have a sore throat associated with a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, or the presence of pus on your throat or tonsils, make an appointment with your doctor right away. He or she will swab your throat and do a quick strep test. If positive, you would be started on antibiotics to prevent potential serious complications associated with a strep infection that’s left untreated. If your sore throat doesn’t go away in a week, see your doctor to rule out mononucleosis. In the mean time, get lots of rest.

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