little girls holds her throat in obvious pain

Is my sore throat COVID-19 or not?

A sore throat is pretty common, as far as symptoms of illness go. Sore throat can be caused by illnesses ranging from the non-serious to the dangerous.

If you’ve ever woken up with a sore throat after spending the day before cheering your heart out at a football game or screaming along to the lyrics at your favorite band’s concert, you also know you don’t need to be sick at all to get a sore throat. The common cold can also cause a sore throat. And, more recently, we’ve discovered that a sore throat is a sign of COVID-19.

We’ve all likely experienced a sore throat before, but when should it be a cause for worry? And when a sore throat feels the same no matter what the cause, how can we tell if it’s a cold, too much yelling, allergies or a COVID sore throat?

What does COVID sore throat feel like?

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Well, it can feel exactly the same as a cold, according to Brian Curtis, MD, vice president of Clinical Specialty Services for OSF HealthCare. That makes it hard to tell the difference between a cold and a mild case of COVID.

It’s even harder to tell the difference knowing that sore throat is a COVID symptom. The common cold and the virus that causes COVID-19 are both the same type of virus – called a coronavirus – and can cause similar symptoms.

One of the early symptoms of COVID is a fever. However, as different strains of COVID spread, it’s possible to have a COVID sore throat and no fever or other symptoms.

But, Dr. Curtis said, it’s more common to have other symptoms in addition to a sore throat if you have COVID.

“Only about 5-10% of COVID-19 patients will have an isolated sore throat. Usually, they will have a touch of fever, loss of taste and smell and difficulty breathing.”

Catching COVID symptoms

“We have to be very vigilant with cold symptoms,” Dr. Curtis said. “We as a society used to be kind of dismissive of cold symptoms, but we can’t be dismissive of them now. If you have just a sore throat with no other symptoms, it’s less likely to be COVID-19. But with other symptoms, it is possible you have COVID. Sore throat, cough, fever – I would be worried about COVID.”

If you develop any other symptoms – even milder symptoms you typically associate with a common cold – you should contact your physician or get tested for COVID-19. Tests can be done easily with an at-home test.

Even if you have a mild case of COVID-19, you could spread the coronavirus to someone who suffers a worse infection. You need to be sure you aren’t putting others at risk if you have any possible COVID-19 symptoms.

How long does COVID sore throat last? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of COVID typically last between five days and two weeks. But if it lasts longer than five days, Dr. Curtis said, it could be something else and is worth getting checked out by your provider.

COVID sore throat remedy

For symptom relief, use over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or Motrin for fever, body aches and pain. For sinus issues, congestion, ear or facial pain, try a decongestant or allergy medication. And for a persistent cough that produces mucus, Mucinex is a good option. And continue to rest and consume plenty of fluids, like water and herbal tea.

What else could it be?

Did you recently get a new pet and are now experiencing a sore throat? Could be allergies. There are many causes for your sore throat, such as:

  • woman on a couch drinks from a mug wrapped in a blanketIf you also have difficulty swallowing, you should be seen by your physician. If you experience shortness of breath, you should be evaluated. If you have a single lump on one side of your neck, you should get evaluated.
  • If your cold symptoms turn out to be due to an actual cold, you need some fluids and rest, and you should be back up in a couple days.
  • If you’ve got a sore throat with a fever, but no runny nose or cough, you might have strep throat. Check for white spots on the tonsils – a sign of a secretion caused by inflammation of the tonsils – and tender nodes on the front of your neck. Contact your physician.
  • If your sore throat is accompanied by a low-grade fever and extreme fatigue, it could be mononucleosis (mono), which is most common in people in their teens and 20s. Contact your physician.
  • Influenza can cause a sore throat that is typically very abrupt, and commonly joined by body aches, fevers and headache.

When to worry about a sore throat

“A sore throat by itself is typically not something to worry about,” Dr. Curtis said.

Your throat could be irritated from allergies, air pollution or overuse. It could also be due to smoking, in which case the solution is simple (QUIT).

If it lingers longer than a week, however, you should contact your physician.

The main point, according to Dr. Curtis, with so many diagnoses, it’s safest to get it checked out. You should contact your physician if you have any questions or concerns about your health and any symptoms you experience.

Last Updated: August 22, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: COVID-19