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What is Considered a Severe Sore Throat?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A severe sore throat is a sore throat lasting more than three days and accompanied by serious symptoms. These symptoms suggest the sore throat is a symptom of a more serious underlying medical problem, rather than a standalone irritation, and the patient may require medical treatment to address both the sore throat itself and the causative disease. Any time people have a consistently high fever, difficulty breathing, or altered level of consciousness, they should be taken to a doctor for medical treatment, even if a sore throat has not lasted three days.

Sore throats have a wide variety of causes. Most last less than three days and are accompanied with mild pain and discomfort. The patient may feel slightly unwell and can be hoarse, but is generally able to conduct daily tasks. In a severe sore throat, the symptoms can become debilitating. The sore throat may be linked to a systemic viral infection or another medical problem.

With a severe sore throat, the pain and swelling are significant. The patient may have difficulty breathing, and the lymph nodes around the throat can be markedly swollen. Symptoms like earache, stiff neck, rash, pus in the throat, bloody sputum, and joint pain can sometimes be observed. The patient also has a high temperature, over 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius). The fever may be associated with sweat and chills.

Patients with severe sore throat may have serious viral or bacterial infections. If the infection is not treated, it can spread, and may lead to severe complications or even death for the patient. A doctor can take swabs to run a throat culture, as well as examining the patient to collect other diagnostic clues. This information can be used to develop an appropriate treatment plan to address the patient's condition and make the patient feel more comfortable. Immediate relief may include measures to help the patient breathe, along with analgesia to manage the pain.

Some patients may have a repeat history of severe sore throat. If people experience recurrent sore throats, it can be an indicator of an underlying problem with the immune system or another chronic medical issue. Careful medical evaluation can be conducted to learn more about why the patient is experiencing repeated sore throats.

If people are not sure about whether a sore throat merits a trip to the doctor, they can call a doctor or nurse for a phone consultation. After discussing the symptoms and their duration, the consultant can decide if the patient needs to be seen in a medical office or hospital.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By ZipLine — On Mar 22, 2013
@ddljohn-- I don't know if it's severe, but you definitely have a sore throat. You should see a doctor if it doesn't go away in a day or two.

I had severe sore throat and difficulty swallowing once. I was diagnosed with meningitis! It was much worse than yours though. The pain from my throat was radiating down into my neck. My neck was stiff and I couldn't move it freely anymore.

That was the worst case of sore throat I ever experienced. It was horrible.

By ddljohn — On Mar 21, 2013

I don't have swollen lymph nodes, but my throat hurts a lot. It just aches constantly and I feel irritation when I'm swallowing. It's been three or four days since I've been feeling this way.

Is this a severe sore throat?

By serenesurface — On Mar 21, 2013

My doctor said that a sore throat is serious if it lasts a week or more. I get sore throat from time to time, but it only lasts a few days. My doctor said that this is fine. Apparently, some mild irritation, allergy or even cold weather can cause this. If it was a throat infection, it would last more than a week.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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