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.
You can get a sore throat from the common cold. And 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.
So, when should you worry about a sore throat? That’s a question made even more pressing by the COVID-19 pandemic. A sore throat is also a common symptom of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Suspect a cold? Don’t brush it off
Have COVID-19 questions?
According to Brian Curtis, MD, vice president of Clinical Specialty Services for OSF HealthCare, a sore throat by itself is typically not something to worry about. 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 a lone sore throat lingers longer than a week, however, you should contact your physician.
And 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. 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.
Mild cases of COVID-19 can even look to an average person exactly like a cold. But 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.
“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.
“Having just an isolated sore throat. Only about 5-10% of COVID-19 patients will have that. Usually, they will have a touch of fever, loss of taste and smell and difficulty breathing.
What else could it be?
There are plenty of other possible causes for your sore throat, Dr. Curtis said. Did you recently get a new pet and are now experiencing a sore throat? Could be allergies. Here are some more tips for responding to a sore throat:
- If 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. (strep is bilateral swelling)
- 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 exudate on the tonsils – 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, which is most common in people in their teens and 20s. Contact your physician.
- Influenza – another coronavirus example – can cause a sore throat that is typically very abrupt, and commonly joined by body aches, fevers and headache.
The main point, according to Dr. Curtis, is that using internet search to diagnose yourself is not the safest idea. You should contact your physician if you have any questions or concerns about your health and any symptoms you experience.