When To See a Doctor for Your Sore Throat

Young girl with sore throat

Sore throats are irritating and painful. Most of the time they go away on their own within a day or two, but sometimes the pain continues and you may wonder if you should consider seeking medical treatment. If you aren't sure when you should see a doctor for a sore throat, we can help.

You should contact your doctor if you have a sore throat and any of the following symptoms.

  • When your sore throat is accompanied by white patches in the throat.
  • When you also have a fever for more than 2 days.
  • When accompanied by a cough that produces mucus or a cough that lasts for more than a week.
  • When a child has a sore throat and a harsh, barking cough (may sound like a seal or small dog bark).
  • When you also have peeling in the mouth and swollen gums and tongue.
  • When your throat is so sore that you cannot swallow or sleep due to pain. 

A majority of sore throats are minor and don't require medical treatment. But a sore throat can signal a more serious infection or illness, so if you are concerned about, talking to your healthcare provider is always a good idea. 

Sore throats are often caused by illnesses or conditions like colds, the flu, allergies or mono. Smoking is another common cause. Often people will think their sore throat is caused by strep and believe they need antibiotics to treat it. Strep throat is fairly uncommon outside of the school age years though and it is almost never accompanied by respiratory symptoms like runny nose, cough or congestion.

It also can't be diagnosed by exam or symptoms alone. If you think you might have strep throat, you need to see a healthcare provider to have a strep test performed. Rapid strep tests can be performed in most doctor's offices in about 5 minutes. Throat cultures are more accurate but can take up to two days to provide results.

Due to the risk of antibiotic resistance, you should not take or ask for antibiotics unless a bacterial infection such as strep throat is confirmed. 

Younger children may have a sore throat due to the cocksackie virus - more commonly known as "Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease". This virus is very common in toddlers and preschool-age children. It goes away on its own but can cause sores in the mouth and throat that can be painful. 

Even if you don't have the symptoms listed above, if you are concerned about your sore throat, contact your health care provider. She can help you decide what is causing it and whether or not you need treatment to make it better.


When a Sore Throat is a More Serious Infection. HealthyChildren.org. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/pages/When-a-Sore-Thoat-is-a-More-Serious-Infection.aspx. Accessed June 23, 2016.

Sore Throat | Overview. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/sore-throat.printerview.all.html. Accessed June 23, 2016.