HCN News & Notes

When Should You Seek Help for a Sore Throat?

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Most people have had many sore throats throughout their lifetimes because this symptom can have numerous causes, from cold, flu, and COVID-19 viruses to bacterial infections and allergies. Not all sore throats require medical care, but the experts at American Family Care (AFC) in Springfield and West Springfield want residents to know how they can find relief and when to see a healthcare provider.

Sore throats caused by viral infections typically also include a cough, runny nose, post-nasal drip, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Over-the-counter pain and flu medications can provide temporary relief, using a humidifier, sipping warm liquids, or sucking on lozenges or cough drops.

“In terms of treatment, there isn’t much we can do for sore throats caused by viral infections, like colds and flu,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, AFC’s regional medical director for Massachusetts. “Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, so we recommend comfort care while the virus runs its course.”

If the sore throat is accompanied by itchy, watery eyes and sneezing, allergies may be the culprit. Depending on the severity of the allergy, prescription or over-the-counter medications may be recommended.

“The most common bacterial infection we see with sore throat pain is strep throat,” Meoli said. “This pain typically comes on quickly and severely and is often accompanied by red, inflamed tonsils, sometimes with visible red spots or pus. Fever is also common, as are headaches.”

Strep throat can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider using a throat swab. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for bacterial infections, along with over-the-counter pain relief.

“If you are prescribed antibiotics for strep throat or another bacterial infection, it’s important to take the entire course,” Meoli noted. “People who stop when they start to feel better tend to relapse, and the infection can become harder to treat. If you have a problem taking the prescribed antibiotic for any reason, talk to your provider about a different option.”

Meoli advised seeking urgent medical care for a sore throat that gets worse after a few days or that includes trouble swallowing or shortness of breath.

The American Family Care staff in Springfield and West Springfield offers convenient, walk-in care seven days a week for patients of all ages, including urgent care for colds and flu, sore throats, sprains, and strains; stitches for minor cuts and lacerations; diagnostic rapid tests and antigen tests for COVID-19; physicals; and on-site X-rays.