When Should I Worry About a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is an incredibly common symptom caused by everything from dry air to allergies to tonsillitis. The question is: how do you know when you might need to turn on your humidifier or when you should see a doctor?

Ignoring a sore throat caused by tonsillitis can cause serious complications. If you think your sore throat may be caused by something more than allergies, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment to get it checked out. Because tonsillitis itself can have multiple causes, your doctor will look for the root cause of your symptoms when developing a treatment plan.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

A sore throat won’t always mean you have tonsillitis, but it is a pretty consistent symptom. For most people, the confusion begins because a sore throat can be caused by any number of issues, from the common cold to allergies to strep throat. Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils themselves become infected and inflamed.

The symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Tonsils that are red and swollen (your doctor will be able to see this)
  • A sore throat
  • White or yellow patches that cover the tonsils
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
  • Trouble or pain swallowing and bad breath
  • A stiff neck or pain in the neck
  • Stomach ache or headache

Because tonsillitis is not uncommon in children, it’s essential to closely observe how these symptoms may manifest in kids. Children often cannot conceptualize or vocalize their discomfort. Instead, tonsillitis will usually present as fussiness or refusal to eat. Children may also drool more due to the pain associated with swallowing.

What Causes Tonsillitis?

If you’re asking yourself whether you have a sore throat or tonsillitis, the answer might be something like this: a sore throat… so far. That’s because some things that cause a sore throat can eventually cause tonsillitis.

It all starts with your tonsils doing what they’re supposed to do. Your tonsils are your body’s first line of defense for viruses and bacteria that enter your body through your mouth. This filtering process means your tonsils are consistently exposed to germs. This can sometimes cause the tonsils to become infected.

A common bacterial causes of tonsillitis are Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacteria that causes strep throat. There are also multiple viruses that can cause tonsillitis. The best way to prevent tonsillitis is to practice good hygiene. Consistent handwashing, for example, will help limit the spread of germs and, as a result, could limit the development of tonsillitis.

When Should You See Your Doctor For Tonsillitis?

In many cases, your tonsillitis may start off as little different than a sore throat, meaning it might be challenging to know when you should call your doctor and when you might be better off waiting. Most patients looking in a bathroom mirror won’t be able to see swollen tonsils or white spots in their throat.

However, if you have a significant number of symptoms, or if those symptoms linger, you should definitely schedule an appointment.

In general, you should make it a point to visit your doctor if:

  • You notice pain or discomfort when you swallow.
  • Your sore throat is accompanied by a fever.
  • Your sore throat lasts for more than 48 hours.

And, of course, if there is any trouble breathing, you should seek immediate emergency care.

If you suspect that your child has tonsillitis and your child has been extremely weak or fussy, you should also consider making an appointment with your doctor.

Treatment for Tonsillitis

Years ago it was common to remove tonsils. However, this surgery is usually considered a last resort and will only be performed in cases of repeated infections or when other therapies have proven ineffective.

Because both viruses and bacteria can cause tonsillitis, it will be important to determine the correct treatment path. Antibiotics are also commonly prescribed.

If the tonsillitis is caused by a virus, however, bed rest, fluids, and symptomatic therapies will likely be the prescribed course of action (antibiotics are not an effective treatment for viral infections). If these treatments prove ineffective, your doctor may consider surgically removing your tonsils.

Tonsillitis will require a medical diagnosis in order to begin effective treatment. So if your sore throat hasn’t gone away, it’s important to ascertain the precise cause. Contact your doctor today to get to the bottom of your sore throat.

Want more information?

Checkout these related articles

Scientist looking through microscope looking for hearing loss treatments.
Kevin St. Clergy
| September 20, 2022

New Discovery Will Lead to More Targeted Hearing Loss Treatments

What if we could treat hearing loss with more personalized solutions? New discovery in 40-year Harvard study will make treating hearing loss more precise. […]

Read More… from New Discovery Will Lead to More Targeted Hearing Loss Treatments

Girl with a bull horn up her grandfather's hear.
Kevin St. Clergy
| September 15, 2022

What Percentage of Hearing Loss Is Legally Deaf?

When are you considered legally deaf? It depends. Here are some of the ways hearing loss is defined. […]

Read More… from What Percentage of Hearing Loss Is Legally Deaf?

Diagnostics of ultrasound of thyroid gland in woman. Thyroid disease concept.
Kevin St. Clergy
| September 13, 2022

6 Signs You May Have a Thyroid Issue

“Maybe it’s your thyroid.” You’ve heard that before. Everyone seems to think you’ve got some kind of thyroid condition, but the funny thing is that […]

Read More… from 6 Signs You May Have a Thyroid Issue

Find A Hearing Expert Near You Today

Discover everything you need to know about hearing loss and hearing aids and find top local hearing experts.

Find An Expert