Sore Throat, Strep Throat, or COVID-19?

Sore throats account for some 12 million doctor visits annually in the United States. That’s no surprise to Mark Rosenberg, DO, and the team at Macomb Medical Clinic in Sterling Heights, Michigan. They treat their fair share of scratchy, irritated throats, especially during the fall and winter. 

As we enter prime cold, flu, and COVID-19 season, Dr. Rosenberg takes a few minutes here to unpack the most common causes of a sore throat and offers guidance on how to tell if yours warrants a trip to our office.

Sore throat basics

Various factors can trigger a sore throat, from a cold or flu virus to allergies, air pollution, and even snoring.

Sore throats caused by viruses are the most common and are often accompanied by coughing or sneezing. Usually, these resolve within a week with home care, including rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. 

Understanding strep throat

Strep throat is a specific type of sore throat caused by infection with group A Streptococcus bacteria. Strep infections are highly contagious and often transmitted through respiratory droplets or touching contaminated surfaces.

Unlike a run-of-the-mill viral sore throat, strep throat can be severe, making it painful to speak or swallow. Swelling in the lymph nodes of your neck, a throbbing headache, and often a high fever are classic signs of a strep infection.

After a physical examination, Dr. Rosenberg can confirm strep throat with a rapid antigen test in the office. The test entails a throat swab to collect secretions and can detect strep bacteria in minutes.

If this test is negative, but Dr. Rosenberg still suspects strep, he follows up with a throat culture. He sends the sample to a laboratory where it’s cultured for the presence of bacteria; results can take up to two days.

Strep infections are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics help alleviate the painful symptoms and prevent the infection from spreading. 

It's essential to complete the entire course of your prescription, even if you start feeling better before you’ve finished the medication. Skipping doses can lead to a recurrence of strep and antibiotic resistance over time.

Sore throat and COVID-19

A sore throat can also be a symptom of COVID-19. Most COVID-19 infections involve respiratory symptoms like coughing, breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, and congestion. A sore throat isn’t always the primary complaint. 

If you have COVID-19, you might experience a fever, and some people lose their sense of taste or smell. When a sore throat accompanies these other symptoms, COVID-19 may be suspected.

We administer a special diagnostic test to determine whether your sore throat is due to COVID-19. If your COVID-19 test is positive, Dr. Rosenberg can provide appropriate treatment and monitor your recovery.

Getting proper care for your sore throat

Sore throats may be common, but they can range significantly in severity. To learn what’s behind your throat pain, call Macomb Medical Clinic today at 586-315-2393 to make an appointment with Dr. Rosenberg.

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