Font Size
A
A
A

Sore Throat (cont.)

Sore Throat Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of sore throat can be generalized symptoms that occur throughout the body such as fever, headache, nausea, and malaise. These may be present with either a viral or bacterial infection.

Symptoms specific to the throat include pain with swallowing for pharyngitis and a hoarse voice when laryngitis is present. Cold viruses tend to cause more coughing and runny nose than strep throat.

Signs of sore throat include the following:

  • Pus on the surface of the tonsils (can happen with bacteria or viruses)
  • Redness of the oropharynx (the pharynx viewed though the mouth)
  • Tender and swollen lymph nodes in the neck ("glands") 
  • Drooling or spitting (as swallowing becomes too painful)
  • Difficulty breathing (inhaling can be especially difficult when the passage through the pharynx or larynx becomes too narrow for a normal stream of air)
  • Vesicles (bubbles of fluid on a red base) in the oral cavity or oropharynx may indicate the presence of coxsackie virus or herpes simplex virus

Two-thirds of people with strep throat have only redness with no pus on the tonsils.

How long should a sore throat last?

The duration of a sore throat depends upon the cause. If the cause is a persistent irritation, like inhalation of cigarette smoke or other toxic substance, the sore throat can last as long as the exposure to the offending agent. Bacterial infections such as strep throat begin to improve once appropriate treatment with antibiotics is started. Viruses like the common cold typically produce a sore throat that lasts from several days to a week or more. The sore throat of infectious mononucleosis can last longer than that of the common cold.

When to Seek Medical Care

When to call the doctor

When these conditions point to the possibility of a bacterial infection, the affected person should see the doctor.

  • Severe sore throat without much of a cough
  • Fever over 101 F (38.3 C)
  • Associated headache, abdominal pain, or vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Another family member or close contact recently diagnosed with a strep throat

If the person seem to be dehydrated (dry mouth, sunken eyes, severe weakness, or decreased urine output), an urgent doctor's appointment is indicated. Symptoms of dehydration in adults may be different from symptoms of dehydration in children.

If the pain is not relieved by over-the-counter medicine, or if the person cannot sleep because of the pain, contact a health care professional.

When to go to the hospital

If swallowing hurts enough that drooling occurs, the affected person should go to a hospital's emergency department. Difficulty breathing from a sore throat can also be a symptom of a more serious illness. Significant dehydration associated with inability to drink fluids is often best treated at the hospital.

Because doctor's offices vary in their ability to treat serious conditions in the office or see people on an urgent basis, the person might want to call your doctor to get advice on whether he or she should come to the office or go to the emergency department. Keep in mind that urgent care centers are generally poorly equipped for treatment of serious conditions and may quickly send the patient in an ambulance to an emergency department.

Sore Throat Diagnosis

History and physical examination are the most important tools in diagnosis. When epiglottitis or occasionally croup is suspected, neck X-rays may be helpful. A blood count and antibody test may be helpful when mononucleosis is suspected to confirm the diagnosis.

A throat swab to check for a strep throat infection (strep throat is a common name for streptococcal pharyngitis) is useful in selected cases. The so-called "rapid strep" test is sometimes unreliable, however, so often a doctor prescribes antibiotics based on the history and examination alone. A throat culture is a more reliable test, but the results take 24 hours to return. Treatment with antibiotics can be either initiated on a delayed basis or discontinued if begun already based on this final result.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/16/2016

Must Read Articles Related to Sore Throat

Antibiotics
Antibiotics Antibiotics are prescribed to individuals to cure disease by killing bacteria. There are over 100 antibiotics. The main classes of antibiotics include
    ...
learn more >>
Colds
Colds The cold is the most commonly occurring illness in ...learn more >>
Cough
Coughs A cough is a symptom of an underlying disease or condition. A chronic or persistent cough may signal certain lung conditions that should be evaluated by a healt...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Sore Throat:

Sore Throat (Pharyngitis) - Length Symptoms Lasted

How long did the symptoms of your sore throat (pharyngitis) last? Was there anything in particular that helped with pain/symptom relief?

Sore Throat - Experience

Please describe your experience with sore throat.

Sore Throat - Treatment

What treatment was effective for your sore throat?


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Pharyngitis »

Pharyngitis is a leading cause of pediatric ambulatory care visits.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary