When Does a Sore Throat Warrant a Trip to the Doctor?

When Does a Sore Throat Warrant a Trip to the Doctor?

Sore throats are responsible for more than 13 million visits to the doctor’s office each year. There are numerous reasons you can have a sore throat, but when should you seek the help of a medical professional? 

Ear, nose, and throat physician Nilesh Patel, MD, is trained to distinguish a run-of-the-mill sore throat from something more serious. Here, he describes common causes of sore throats so you better understand when you should head to the doctor’s office for medical care. 

Why is my throat sore?

A variety of conditions cause sore throats, some minor and some serious. It's critical to know which is which so you promptly seek medical attention when you need it. Here are some of the most common offenders.


Your immune system defends your body against a wide range of potentially harmful substances, including environmental toxins and pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. However, when you have an allergy, your body reacts to substances that should be harmless, such as pollen, pet dander, or certain foods. 

Common symptoms of airborne allergies include: 

 Over-the-counter allergy medications (antihistamines) can help ease symptoms. Generally, a mild sore throat due to allergies is usually nothing to be concerned about. If your symptoms persist or worsen, or if you have reactions to a variety of allergens, consult an allergist.

Common cold or the flu

Viral infections are a common cause of sore throat. Colds are caused by viruses such as rhinoviruses, while flu is caused by the influenza virus. In addition to a sore throat, both illnesses can cause a runny nose, cough, aches, and fatigue; only the flu causes chills and fever.

Colds and influenza both tax your immune system, making it less effective at combating other pathogens. If you have a sore throat with either condition, Dr. Patel may recommend ruling out a secondary infection like strep throat.

 If you have strep throat, which is caused by an infection of the group A streptococcus bacteria, you’ll notice the following symptoms:

Visit Dr. Patel if your sore throat is accompanied by these symptoms. He may take a throat culture to see if streptococcus is the culprit or if it's something else. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat strep throat.

Postnasal drip

A postnasal drip occurs when excess mucus drains from the sinuses behind your nose and trickles down the back of your throat, frequently resulting in a persistent sore or scratchy throat as well as these symptoms: 

Postnasal drip is typically treated with over-the-counter medications, sinus rinses or washes, and prescription medications in some cases. You may need to see a physician to manage ongoing symptoms. 

Should you see a doctor for your sore throat?

Sore throats are unpleasant, but not all require immediate medical attention. As a general rule, seek immediate medical attention if your sore throat is accompanied by:

If you have a sore throat that’s preventing you from eating or swallowing, contact Dr. Patel as soon as possible for an same-day urgent care appointment at one of our two New York City offices. If you're unsure whether your sore throat requires a trip to the doctor, give us a call, and we'll advise you.

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