Sore Throat (cont.)

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What is strep throat and why is it different?

Strep throat is caused by Streptococcus bacteria, which is the same bacteria that causes rheumatic fever. Many health care practitioners will recommend a rapid strep test for a patient with a sore throat. The rapid strep test can usually be done in the doctor's office and takes 15-20 minutes. If the result is negative, it is often followed with a strep culture. If either of these is positive, the sore throat is generally treated with another antibiotic.

A major objective of treating strep throat is to prevent the development of rheumatic fever, a complication of strep throat and a serious illness that can cause joint pain and heart valve damage. However, antibiotics do not necessarily speed the healing of the sore throat itself, and antibiotics do not help a sore throat unless it is caused by bacteria. Another strep-related illness, scarlet fever, can cause a rash, but will not cause heart injury or joint pain.

When should I seek medical care for a sore throat?

Seek medical care immediately at an emergency department if the person has any of the following:

  • A throat that is so swollen the person is having trouble breathing.
  • If the person is unable to swallow liquids or his or her daily medications.
  • If the person becomes dehydrated, faint, lightheaded, or has heart palpitations.
  • If the tongue or lips swell up.

Call a doctor if the person has any of the following:

  • If the person has been in contact with someone with strep throat and he or she has a sore throat, it is reasonable to have a strep test ordered.
  • If the sore throat is associated with a fever, swollen "glands" (lymph nodes), or white patches on the back of the throat.
  • If the sore throat is not associated with other cold symptoms (runny nose, watery eyes, sinus congestion).
  • Any sore throat that has a sudden onset and is associated with a fever.
  • If the person is having trouble swallowing soft food (pain with swallowing is to be expected with a sore throat).
  • If the person sore throat persists for more than a week.
  • If the person has a sore throat and the front of the neck is sore and stiff.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/16/2014

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Sore Throat - Length Symptoms Lasted Question: How long did the symptoms of your sore throat (pharyngitis) last? Was there anything in particular that helped with pain/symptom relief?
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