Jane Emanuel, M.D.
Most sore throats are either caused by a virus or bacteria. Those are the most common things. A few other things like allergy or reflux or irritants like chemicals can cause a sore throat, but the big two are viruses and bacteria.
When should I see a doctor?
Mostly, it’s duration and severity. If you have a sore throat that’s 2 or 3 days and going away, you really don’t need to see the doctor. If you have something that’s either lasting longer, in that 5-7 day duration and not getting better, or if it’s severe meaning I’m having trouble swallowing, I have swelling on one side of my throat, I have troubles breathing, those are going to be reasons you should go see the doctor without a long wait.
What are my treatment options?
When it comes to treatment, viral sore throats are mostly just going to do supportive care. It just has to run its course. And usually when you have a sore throat or a cold, the sore throat doesn’t last a long time, only 2 or 3 days, so in a sense that’s fairly easy to treat since it has an endpoint.
Warm salt water goggles, analgesics, if it hurts take something to ease the pain. There’s the over the counter throat sprays that can temporarily numb up the throat, I usually don’t push those much because people sometimes over-use them. You can use them for a day or two. Throat lozenges can help, but mostly, hydration and pain meds.
The bacterial sore throats, especially if it strep, need an antibiotic, and the plus of that is you do get better in about 24-48 hours, so in a sense, it’s easy to treat as well.