Is A Sore Throat Always A Strep Infection?

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Is A Sore Throat Always A Strep Infection?

Is A Sore Throat Always A Strep Infection?

You or someone you care for feels sick.  It often occurs after usual doctor's hours.  Maybe it's a case of a very sore throat that hurts so much the patient feels like he or she can hardly swallow without agonizing pain.

It's surprising how often conditions that seem to need medical attention get worse immediately after most primary care doctors offices close, isn't it?  So, in the case of a severe sore throat, how do you get care when you can't access a primary physician and there is very real pain involved?

Up until most recently, the answer was almost universal: the emergency room of a local hospital.  But times are changing. The rising cost of care in the ER – along with the real life ramifications of today's health care law – are causing more and more Americans to seek a viable alternative to a hospital visit.  The cost of providing care in the ER is significantly higher than other facilities.  A study featured in the September 2010 issue of Health Affairs found that many people seek care in the emergency room for ailments that are not emergencies and that inappropriate ER use could be attributed, in part, to a lack of access to primary care services.

In a recent survey by the Healthcare Intelligence Network, 95 percent of responding hospitals stated that avoidable ER visits were a problem.

An exhaustive Washington State Hospital Association study released in 2011 reported that (at least) one in nine visits to the emergency room were avoidable and could have been treated with the same positive outcomes at other settings such as a primary care doctor's office or a local clinic like Brookside Urgent Care Center.

Emergency rooms are suffering from overuse all over the United States.  If those one in nine visits (11%) to the ER were directed elsewhere, the ER capacity crisis would ease and the cost savings to the public would be dramatic.

The same study showed that the majority of these avoidable ER visits involved children under the age of 18...34%.  Patients who go to the emergency room for avoidable visits are more likely to be female (60%).

A surprising finding from the study is that the uninsured (charity care, self-pay) have the same proportion of avoidable visits as of total ER visits, 11 percent.  So, regardless of self-pay, no-pay or insured status, about the same amount of avoidable visits occurs in each group.

So, you or one of your children are experiencing a severe sore throat and are concerned about treatment.  First, let's examine the causes of a sore throat.  This list covers the most common causes.  A sore throat can arise from many different causes and is often the first sign of illness.  Sore throats have a variety of causes according to the University of of Wisconsin-Madison, such as:

  • Viruses (such as colds or mono) or bacteria (such as strep)

  • Smoking

  • Polluted air

  • Dry indoor air

  • Excessive mouth breathing

  • Muscle strain from yelling

  • Stomach acid


A sore throat can also be a symptom of hay fever and other allergies.  According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the majority of throat infections are viral and therefore not strep.  Approximately five to fifteen percent of throat infections are caused by strep bacteria.  Some other bacterial infections also require antibiotics.  The best treatment for viral sore throat is rest and liquids.  Regardless of the cause of the sore throat, observe the following treatment guidelines (according to the UW-M):

  • Drink plenty of liquids

  • Gargle with warm salt water (one teaspoon salt in one cup of hot water) every few hours to help with pain

  • Cough drops, or hard candy can moisten a dry, irritated throat

  • Sore throat lozenges or sprays to numb the throat

  • Use a vaporizer or hot shower steam to breathe in moist heat

  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain as directed on the package (avoid using aspirin if you are under 20 years old)

  • Avoid smoking and smoky areas


If you're concerned about the seriousness of a sore throat, perhaps your best treatment option – during or after normal work/school hours – is Brookside Urgent Care Center.  You can get in and out quickly, and be seen after normal business hours.  Since our medical personnel are all board certified, you can feel confident about the excellent standard of care at our clinic.  We invite you to come by the next time you have a medical issue that is not life-threatening and falls within the scope of urgent care.