Whether or not a sore throat is serious depends on what's causing it and what the symptoms are. Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and a sensation of scratchiness in the throat could be the result of allergies or air pollution. If these symptoms are accompanied by swelling, sores or pus in the tonsils, a high fever, body aches, and headaches, or nausea and vomiting, it could be signs of tonsillitis, a serious infection, or strep throat.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. Although these infections make up only a small percentage of sore throats, an untreated strep throat can cause kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever may result in permanent heart valve damage and can cause other symptoms like painful and inflamed joints. It can be difficult to tell if a sore throat is caused by a Streptococcus infection, especially in the early stages.
Most sore throats will get better on their own, and home care measures are usually all that's necessary to help people get better. Sore throats caused by chronic problems like allergies don't necessarily need to be treated, but treating the allergies is probably a good idea. Sore throats caused by Streptococcus should be treated with antibiotics.
A run-of-the-mill sore throat doesn't need urgent care, but it can be hard to tell just what the problem is. If the symptoms come on suddenly, swallowing is very painful, and the tonsils are swollen or red -- especially if accompanied by fever -- strep throat is more likely and an urgent care visit is a good idea. Another sign of strep throat is tiny red spots at the back of the throat on the roof of the mouth. However, if there is any uncertainty it's better to go in for an urgent care visit than for strep throat to go untreated, especially in children.
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