How to assess your sore throat "level": expert tips.
Usually, having a sore throat is nothing to worry about - most are caused by cold or flu germs (viruses). In rare cases, however, it can signal something more serious… not to be alarming but one of the first symptoms of ebola virus is a sore throat!
Closer to everyday reality, strep bacteria, a common cause of sore throat (especially in children) can spread like wildfire through schools and daycare and if it gets into the bloodstream is pretty nasty indeed. Many other infections can also be preceded by a sore throat, so it’s never something to automatically take lightly.
So, how do you know the difference between a scratchy throat that will disappear on its own, and the start of a potentially serious infection?
Sore Throat Level: Guarded.
When it comes to a sore throat, forget “low” level. A sniffly nose is low level, but a sore throat always merits at least “guarded”. Pay attention, but don’t panic.
If you were talking loudly at a noisy, smoky bar, you may have strained your vocal cords, resulting in throat soreness. If you have hayfever or your allergies are acting up, that can make your throat feel scratchy. Even sleeping with your mouth open in winter, with the central heating drying out the air, can cause a sore throat (vaporizers or humidifiers are a great help to combat this).
Finally there’s the sore thoat caused by a virus, like most are. This sore throat usually has no other symptoms, or just a runny nose. If it’s a cold or flu virus, antibiotics won’t help – they only work on bacteria, so if you’re feeling generally okay (or think it's caused by strain like the examples above) you might be able to save yourself a trip to the doctors and treat your symptoms... while remaining vigilant.
There’s plenty of “comfort and soothe” home remedies that actually work: try a cup of good old fashioned lemon & honey tea, or a spoonful of Manuka honey. Keep some medicated lozenges like Bosisto’s Eucalyptus Drops on hand for when you're on the go, too. The good thing about natural remedies is they don’t “mask” your symptoms so you can assess if you’re getting worse.
If symptoms persist after a few days, go see your doctor. And don’t forget; fluids and rest are the most important of all.
Sore Throat Level: High Threat.
If your sore throat is accompanied by an achy feeling all over and you have a fever, you should elevate your threat level to “high” and get to the doctor. The doctor may do a throat culture (swab) to see if you have a strep infection, especially if you have been around children. (Note: if you have children with a sore throat, it’s always better to get them assessed by your GP).
A strep infection can be dangerous for adults or kids – it can cause local inflammation and can spread to tonsils and lymph tissues. These can swell and possibly obstruct the airway, and the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause infections elsewhere, such as the heart valves.
Sore Throat Level: Extreme
Raise your threat level to “extreme” if you are having difficulty swallowing or breathing, or if you develop a high fever with painful swelling of your lymph nodes. Tonsillitis or mononucleosis and strep throat all feature these symptoms, but never self-diagnose… just get to your doctor as soon as possible. The good news is that prompt treatment can prevent almost all the serious consequences of sore throat.
Source: Web MD