Living Well: Sore throat — Is it strep or something else?
It’s that time of year when coughs, runny noses, fevers, and sore throats are rampant among the community. Many patients — children and adults — visiting our MRH clinics are concerned about sore throats and wonder if they may be caused by strep.
There are many reasons for sore throats, which are caused by both viruses and bacteria. It may be as simple as nasal drainage down the back of your throat, or a bacterial infection, including strep throat. Most sore throat complaints can be handled at your doctor’s office or in a walk-in clinic.
Some common causes of sore throats are colds, allergies, influenza A and B, hand-foot-and-mouth, mononucleosis (aka mono), and strep infection. Testing is typically done to determine the cause. At MRH clinics, we test for influenza A and B and streptococcal bacteria in our office with throat or nose swab and for mono, with a blood test, which is sent to the lab.
The most common cause of a sore throat is a virus, which does not require any antibiotic treatment. There is antiviral treatment for a positive influenza diagnosis and antibiotic treatment for patients with positive group A strep testing. Viral infections typically resolve within a few days to a week with home supportive care, such as drinking plenty of fluids; drinking warm fluids; using over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol and Advil; using throat lozenges; and eating a normal diet, if tolerated.
Uncommon or rare causes of sore throat includes epiglottitis, peritonsillar abscess, and tracheitis — all caused by different bacterial infections. According to the CDC, the incidence of strep throat in children is approximately 20 children out of 100 with a sore throat, but the incidence of bacterial tracheitis is only about four children out of 1,000,000 children per year.
These are serious infections which typically require an emergency department visit, IV antibiotics, IV steroids, and possible admission to the hospital. These types of infections are not subtle, and people are often very ill at the time of diagnosis. Symptoms of these types of infections include high fever, rapidly worsening sore throat, difficulty swallowing saliva, excessive drooling, difficulty breathing, stridor (high pitched noise heard when person is breathing), fast breathing, and increased difficulty in breathing. If someone has any of these symptoms, he or she should seek immediate medical attention by going to the emergency department or calling 911.
The best advice for prevention of sore throat is to wash your hands frequently. Hand washing has been shown to reduce the transmission of viral and bacterial infections among the community. Always use warm water and soap, wash for at least 20 seconds (sing the alphabet), and dry well with a towel. If you are unable to wash your hands, use antibacterial, alcohol-based hand cleaners. You may also want to avoid sharing food or drinks with others who have sore throat symptoms. But, if you still end up with a sore throat, please visit your medical provider for evaluation.
Rapid Care is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for your convenience. It’s located at 2020 W. Victory Way in Craig, and walk-ins are welcome.
Jennifer Schmitt is a physician assistant for Memorial Regional Health at Rapid Care Clinic.