Here’s how to tell when a sore throat is something serious

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Sore throat is quite common and usually nothing to worry about. Sometimes, though, they can point to something quite serious. For example, I had a very dramatic tonsillectomy at the great age of 17 after a year of almost endless sore throat – no amount of home remedies could have corrected what ended up requiring two separate hospital stays and procedures to correct. So how do you know when a sore throat has lasted too long? Or when it’s serious?

How is a normal sore throat?

We are all familiar with how sore the throat feels: It is scratchy, irritated and painful, and the feeling is worse when you swallow. According to the Mayo ClinicThe most common cause of this problem is a viral infection such as a cold or flu, but the good news is that these types of sore throats resolve on their own.

Sore throat is less common and is caused by bacteria. It requires antibiotic treatment to prevent any kind of complications. The other less common causes of sore throat may require even more complex treatment than that. The problem, of course, is that it can be hard to know if yours is one of those cold-related ones that will resolve in a few days by itself or need more serious intervention, and you probably do not want to go for the walk -in the clinic every time you get a scratching sensation, as the chances are that you will be told that you have a viral infection and will be sent on your way.

When to see a doctor

Pain, sore or swollen glands in your neck or jaw, red tonsils and a muffled voice in itself are not reasons to seek emergency treatment, but these is:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unusual salivation (which may indicate inability to swallow, especially in children)
  • Sore throat lasting longer than a week
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Joint pain
  • Earache
  • Rash
  • Fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Blood in your saliva or mucus
  • Frequent recurrent sore throat
  • A lump in the neck
  • Hoarseness lasting more than two weeks
  • Swelling of the face or neck

Sore throat can be caused by the common cold, flu, allergies or even a minor physical trauma. It can also be caused by mono, measles, chickenpox, COVID-19 or tick, not to mention more serious things like HIV or tumors. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, go and get checked out.

How long does a sore throat last?

Fever and joint pain will be easy to identify if they occur, but sore throat is so common that you may not start counting the days you have had it when you get one. You really should, as the duration of sore throat can help you (well, your doctor) figure out what is causing it.

Per Healthline, most sore throats disappear by themselves within three to 10 days, but once you hit the one-week mark, you really need to be aware of your other symptoms. If it lasts longer than that, then go and see your doctor.

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