If I have a sore throat, when should I see a doctor?


Generally, a sore throat without a fever does not require a visit to the doctor. Although infants seldom get sore throats, a sore throat is one of the most common complaints of school-age children. A sore throat can accompany a mild cold or a runny nose or simply be the result of breathing through the mouth while sleeping. In the absence of other symptoms, the home care treatments will suffice.

If any combination of the following symptoms does accompany a sore throat, a physician should be consulted.

  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • excessive drooling in a young child
  • high-grade fever (over 101°F)
  • sore throat lasting more than three days
  • a white or yellow coating of the throat
  • bright red throat
  • fine red rash (like sandpaper) on trunk, in the groin area, or on the extremities
  • swollen glands in neck
  • severe fatigue
  • recent exposure to strep throat or rheumatic fever

See a doctor for a sore throat if it's not better after a few days, or if you also have a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, or a rash.

Sore throats are very common, and usually caused by a viral illness such as a cold or the flu. If you have a sore throat due to a cold, you can ease the pain by drinking warm or cool liquids, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, gargling with warm salt water, or sucking on lozenges.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
While strep throat is no fun and can be dangerous if untreated, not all scratchy, sore throats are strep infections-and you don't need to head to the doctor every time your throat feels like sandpaper.

So when should you treat a sore throat yourself, and when should you see a doctor?

Use this guide: unless it's unusually severe or you have other symptoms, give a sore throat two days. If your throat doesn't feel better within 48 hours, it's worth seeing your doc and getting a diagnostic test to rule out a bacterial infection.

Meanwhile, gargle with salt water to relieve symptoms. The salt can kill bacteria and numb the throat so you won't feel as much pain.
YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

More About this Book

YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

Between your full-length mirror and high-school biology class, you probably think you know a lot about the human body. While it's true that we live in an age when we're as obsessed with our bodies as...

Continue Learning about Viral Throat Infections

Viral Throat Infections

Viral Throat Infections

Aside from strep throat, most sore throats caused by are contagious, viral throat infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics. The most common culprits of a viral throat infection include coxsackievirus, mononucleosis, and ...

the flu. Mononucleosis (mono) is a virus that causes symptoms that can last for weeks or months at a time. Viral throat infections are best treated with rest, liquids and other home remedies. If the sore throat causes you to have trouble breathing or a high fever, or results in spots in the back of your throat, call your doctor.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.