Is That Sore Throat a Cold or Something Worse?

WEST SPRINGFIELDWhile the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is currently surging, it’s not the only source of sore throats during the bitter winter months. January is right in the middle of cold and flu season, and strep is making the rounds as well. The result is a lot of sore throats, and it can be hard for patients to determine the cause. The physicians and providers at American Family Care (AFC) in Springfield and West Springfield say appropriate testing, based on symptoms and an exam by a medical professional, is the key to getting proper treatment.

“We’re seeing more patients than ever at our urgent-care centers who are reporting sore throats,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, regional medical director of AFC. “We know much of this relates to the resurging COVID-19 pandemic, which is why we’re continuing to provide the rapid testing at our Springfield and West Springfield locations. But we’re also still seeing cases of the common cold, flu, and strep throat, which we can diagnose as well.”

Meoli explained that a sore throat that accompanies a cold, flu, or COVID-19 typically includes other respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose, headache, congestion, and cough. Over-the-counter treatment options are recommended for symptom control, such as throat lozenges, decongestants, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. With an early diagnosis, antiviral medications may also help shorten the duration of the flu.

Strep throat, however, is caused by the bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, and the condition typically requires antibiotic treatment. Strep symptoms may include fever, severe sore throat pain and pain when swallowing, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and red, swollen tonsils or tiny white patches on the back of the throat. Other respiratory symptoms are usually not present.

Meoli noted that, while strep throat accounts for only a small percentage of cases his practice sees, it can lead to complications like rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation if left untreated, so seeking medical care is recommended.

“We perform a quick throat swab in our office. If the results are positive for strep, we prescribe antibiotics, which tend to effectively clear it up,” he said. “With the resurgence of COVID-19, your best bet is to seek testing if you are feeling unwell. We strongly recommend COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as the annual flu vaccine, as preventive measures to help reduce your risks of serious illness.”

The AFC staff in Springfield and West Springfield offers walk-in care seven days a week for patients of all ages, including flu vaccinations, diagnostic rapid tests and antibody tests for COVID-19, physicals, on-site X-rays, care for minor bone breaks and burns, and stitches for cuts and lacerations.