Should I Go to Urgent Care for a Sore Throat?

Dec 29, 2023 | Illness & Infections

The cold winter months have begun. You wake up with a scratchy, burning throat late one night. Things are certainly going around. It’s tempting to shrug it off as just another cold. But could it be something more?

A painful, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat can be miserable, even making it hard to swallow. The most common causes include:

  • Viral infections (like the common cold or the flu).
  • Bacterial infections (such as strep throat – more on that later).
  • Dry air.
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Overuse (such as yelling or singing).

Depending on the cause, sore throat symptoms can vary, but may include:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Hoarseness

Should you go to urgent care for a sore throat? Seeking medical care for new symptoms that seem somewhat pronounced may not be a bad idea. A sore throat can signify more serious conditions, such as strep throat.

That’s right. Strep throat is a particularly nasty bacterial infection that can cause severe side effects if not treated promptly, and it’s best to rule it out early on.

Understanding the Symptoms of Strep Throat

Strep throat, caused by the Streptococcus bacteria, is not your run-of-the-mill, scratchy aggravation. This common illness is hallmarked by:

  • Sudden, severe throat pain.
  • Painful swallowing.
  • Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes accompanied by white patches.
  • Small red spots on the roof of the mouth.
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Nausea or vomiting, especially in younger children.

Differentiating Strep Throat from Other Seasonal Illnesses

Unfortunately, the winter season can bring about a myriad of illnesses, from the common cold to the flu, all sharing similar traits.

Here are a few ways that strep throat stands out:

  • Onset: While cold symptoms tend to develop gradually, strep throat symptoms usually come on suddenly.
  • Cough: A cough is more common with colds than with strep.
  • Nasal symptoms: Runny nose and congestion are hallmarks of a cold, not strep throat.

Red Flags Prompting a Visit to Urgent Care:

If you suspect you may have strep throat and experience any of the following symptoms, run, don’t walk, to your nearest urgent care or emergency room:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
  • A rash that spreads rapidly.
  • High fever (above 101°F or 38.3°C).
  • Symptoms that persist for more than 48 hours without improvement.
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm.
  • Persistent vomiting or inability to keep liquids down.
  • Severe pain or discomfort, despite over-the-counter pain relief.

The Unpleasant Side Effects of Untreated Strep Throat

Here’s the DL: many cases of strep throat can resolve on their own. That being said, neglecting treatment can occasionally – albeit rarely – lead to severe complications. It’s important to always take strep throat seriously:

  • Scarlet Fever: Recognizable by a fine, red rash that feels like sandpaper, this condition results from toxins produced by the strep bacteria. It’s usually accompanied by a high fever and a red, sore throat.
  • Rheumatic Fever: This inflammatory disease can affect the heart, joints, skin, and even the nervous system. If not addressed, rheumatic fever can lead to permanent damage to the heart valves.
  • Post-Streptococcal Glomerulonephritis: This inflammation of the kidneys can result in reduced kidney function, high blood pressure, or in extreme cases, kidney failure.
  • Tonsil Abscess: If untreated, strep throat can lead to an abscess behind the tonsils, causing difficulty swallowing, pain, and sometimes breathing problems.
  • Sinus and Ear Infections: The bacteria behind strep throat can spread to adjacent regions, leading to sinus and ear infections.
  • Meningitis: Though rare, the bacteria can reach the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, leading to meningitis, a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Guttate Psoriasis: This type of psoriasis is distinguishable by its outbreak of small, droplet-shaped sores and can occur on the trunk, arms, or legs.

The risks of leaving strep throat untreated far outweigh the inconvenience of seeing a doctor. The longer you wait, the higher the risk of developing these complications.

Benefits of Treatment at Urgent Care

At Quality First, our doctors typically perform a rapid strep test to determine whether you’re dealing with a run-of-the-mill sore throat caused by a virus, or if strep is afoot. This involves swabbing the throat to check for the presence of the bacteria. If the test comes back positive, antibiotics are usually prescribed. It’s crucial to complete the full course to prevent complications.

Additional benefits of seeking urgent care include:

  • Speed: At Quality First, there’s no need to wait for a primary care appointment. Our clinics are staffed and equipped to provide prompt and knowledgeable attention.
  • Convenience: Quality First is open daily for your medical needs, and offers extended hours compared to normal doctors’ offices – perfect for those sudden symptoms.
  • Comprehensive Care: Aside from treating strep throat, Quality First can also address other health concerns you may have.

Spotlight on Personal Hygiene

With winter illnesses abounding, maintaining personal hygiene is paramount – and key to keeping yourself, and those around you, safe and healthy. Always remember:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water after eating and when using public facilities. (Hand sanitizer containing 70% alcohol is a good alternative.)
  • Avoid sharing personal items like drinking glasses or utensils.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Consider masking up if you’ve recently been ill or are feeling under the weather.

Don’t wait for complications from strep throat. Stop by our Burtonsville or Clarksville Quality First clinics or schedule an appointment with one of our doctors today.