When to See a Doctor About Your Throat Pain

Mar 20, 2023
When to See a Doctor About Your Throat Pain
You may expect a sore throat when you have a respiratory illness like a cold or even after an afternoon spent cheering your favorite team to victory. But could throat pain signal something serious? Find out when it’s time to call the doctor.

Sore throats are common enough that most people expect to experience several of them in their lifetime. However, throat pain is something more than that scratchy irritation accompanying most colds.

Philip T. Ho, MD, FACS, is a board-certified otolaryngologist at Silicon Valley ENT & Sinus Center in Los Gatos, California. Dr. Ho uses advanced diagnostics to assess your pain and a range of effective treatments to address the cause of your discomfort. Read on for his insights regarding throat pain and when to schedule a visit.

What causes throat pain?

The most common causes of throat pain include:

Viral infections

Viruses that frequently cause throat pain include colds and flu, measles, chickenpox, croup, and mononucleosis (mono). 

Bacterial infections

Strep throat is a common bacterial infection that can cause severe throat pain, making it difficult to swallow or speak.


Epiglottitis can cause extreme pain accompanied by difficulty swallowing and breathing and muffled speech.


Allergies to dust mites, pollen, mold, and other substances can irritate and inflame the eyes, sinuses, and throat. They’re also a common cause of postnasal drainage, which can cause  throat discomfort.

Acid reflux

You may develop laryngopharyngeal reflux when acidic stomach contents wash back into the throat. Frequent reflux can damage the tissue lining the throat and may increase your risk of esophageal cancer. Reflux symptoms include throat pain, cough, and hoarse voice.


While less common, cancerous tumors involving the tongue, throat, or voice box (larynx) can cause throat pain that you may also feel in one or both ears when you swallow. Noncancerous growths (polyps or nodules) on the voice box may also cause throat pain and hoarseness.

When should I see the doctor for throat pain?

Dr. Ho encourages his patients to schedule an appointment whenever they have concerns about their ENT health. You should, for instance, schedule a visit if you develop a sore throat without an apparent cause or are worried about your child’s enlarged tonsils.

Otherwise, he advises following guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology, which suggest scheduling an evaluation if you or your child experience:

  • Severe throat pain
  • Throat pain lasting longer than a week
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Recurring sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing
  • Problem opening the mouth
  • Blood-tinged saliva or phlegm
  • Lump in the neck
  • Hoarse voice or changes in voice quality (trembly, muffled, or whispery speech)
  • Skin rash
  • Temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit

Note that difficulty breathing could indicate swelling that may eventually block airways. This is especially concerning in children and requires emergency medical attention.

How do you treat throat pain?

Your treatment at Silicon Valley ENT & Sinus Center starts with a thorough evaluation that may include diagnostic studies to identify the underlying cause of your pain.

For instance, Dr. Ho may perform a fiberoptic laryngoscopy based on your symptoms. During this in-office study, Dr. Ho uses a tiny camera affixed to a flexible tube (endoscope) to capture detailed images of your throat and larynx.

Depending on your evaluation results, Dr. Ho creates an individualized treatment plan that may include antibiotics to clear bacterial infection, medication and lifestyle changes to manage acid reflux, or allergy testing and treatment.

Dr. Ho may perform surgery for conditions that don’t respond adequately to conservative therapies, such as micro-laryngoscopy for vocal cord lesions.

Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Ho at Silicon Valley ENT & Sinus Center today by calling the office or requesting an appointment online.