Hard to Swallow
February 6, 2009 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Dearest Non-Doctors; Is there any chance of my incredibly painful sore throat and swollen lymph nodes going away on it's own?

I had your average sniffling, sickness, and fever cold for about a week and it started calming down. As soon as I started feeling better, however, my throat closed up to the point where it it is really painful to swallow. Teeth-gritting, meal-skipping, bringing-tears-to-my-eyes painful. I've been spitting into the trashcan rather than swallow my own spit, and rinsing my mouth with water when I'm thirsty rather than actually drinking. It's pretty horrible.

My throat isn't scratchy and I haven't been coughing. It isn't bronchitis. It's just tender and swollen. The lymph nodes on the left side of my neck (the same side as my left hand) are swollen and hard to the point that I can see them in the mirror and feel them with my hand. The right are not. All the pain while swallowing is in the left side.

My questions: Is there anything that will help me feel better? So far Chloraseptic, cough drops, and hot tea have helped a little. Codeine cough syrup helped quite a bit, but I'm pretty sure that's due to the fact that narcotics help you feel less pain than any sort of healing going on.

Second question: Is there any chance this will go away without antibiotics?

I hate these threads as much as anyone else. IF IT HURTS THAT BADLY, SUCK IT UP AND PAY THE MONEY AND GO TO A DOCTOR. I shall save you the no-health-insurance-and-poverty sob story. Rest assured, I am going to set a deadline, and if I see no improvement at all by then, I'll go ahead and see a doctor. I want to know if I have a chance of getting better on my own before getting gouged on "rest and water and vitamin C."
posted by Juliet Banana to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, painful swallowing sounds like strep to me, which means, you know, antibiotics. You don't want to mess with strep.

Whatever you end up doing, I hope you feel better soon.
posted by sugarfish at 1:57 PM on February 6, 2009

and rinsing my mouth with water when I'm thirsty rather than actually drinking. It's pretty horrible....

Do NOT cut fluids when do you not feel well. That is on a short list of things guaranteed to make you feel worse.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:58 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it sounds like it could be strep throat, which is an infection that will not go away on its own and could very well cause other, more serious (and more expensive) problems if left untreated.

Is there a free clinic near you?
posted by arco at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2009

Salt water gargle might help the pain. If you can't swallow water you are in serious trouble. Go see a doctor. Maybe call someone to check up on you periodically if possible.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Any chance it'll get better? Sure. Or, it could get much worse. Lymph nodes swollen enough to see really says "see a doctor" to me.

IANAD, but I concur with sugarfish, and I think odds are good it's an infection that won't go away easily on its own (considering it's gotten this far) but would respond quickly to cheap antibiotics— if you're hard up, find a sliding-scale clinic to look at you. Maybe someone in [checks profile] Ohio could recommend one?
posted by hattifattener at 2:12 PM on February 6, 2009

Nthing strep.

I just had that and my doc gave me a Z-pac (5-day azithromycin) free sample, which took care of it (symptom-wise) overnight.

If you go to the doc, ask if he/she has samples on hand.

Leaving a strep infection un-medicated can cause future heart problems.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:12 PM on February 6, 2009

It also might NOT be strep -- I went to my doctor last summer with a painful sore throat and a fever, and he checked my tonsils and they looked like they were strep-inflamed, so he gave me an antibiotic just in case while they were getting the lab tests done to confirm the diagnosis. ...Only when the test came back, it tested negative for strep. So it might also NOT be strep.

But even if it's not, it's still probably something else, and still worth having a doctor check it out.

Oh, and not drinking fluids is a bad idea. I know it hurts, but -- seriously. Try doing bouillon, at least.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:12 PM on February 6, 2009

Strep can be quite dangerous if left untreated. I'd get in for a throat culture asap. Should not be too expensive.
posted by ecorrocio at 2:13 PM on February 6, 2009

Can you take a peek at your throat with a flashlight and a mirror? If one side of your throat is more red, puffy, or that tonsil looks significantly larger, I would head to the doctor immediately. I mention this because you referred to the lymph nodes on one side being more painful and the pain when swallowing only being on one side.

This sounds really similar to something that happened to me 2 years ago, and it ended up being a peritonsillar abscess. The whole experience was far more painful than when I had strep throat or mono.

Seriously, I would have written exactly what you wrote here. Is it getting more painful to talk? The day I went to immediate care, my husband was cringing when I spoke. He said it sounded like I was making fun of a deaf person.
posted by peep at 2:14 PM on February 6, 2009

You've been sick for more than a week? Time to see a doctor. If you're concerned about $$, look for free health clinics in your area.
posted by gnutron at 2:17 PM on February 6, 2009

I had your average sniffling, sickness, and fever cold for about a week and it started calming down. As soon as I started feeling better, however, my throat closed up to the point where it it is really painful to swallow. Teeth-gritting, meal-skipping, bringing-tears-to-my-eyes painful.

Anecdote: This is exactly what happened to me when I had mono. There wasn't really anything for me to do except force myself to gulp down hot tea and lemon and honey. Sometimes if what I was eating was tasty enough it would distract me from the pain.
posted by puffin at 2:17 PM on February 6, 2009

Seconding the possibility of mono. You might be able to get a codeine or endocet prescription so you'll either be able to swallow or just pass out entirely.
posted by mkb at 2:24 PM on February 6, 2009

The only time I had strep throat, I didn't know what it was. I just thought it was a sore throat, that it would go away. Well, a week and a bit later, it was much worse. Couldn't eat, couldn't drink, couldn't talk. I finally got my butt in gear to go to the doctor, and was informed that my tonsils were ulcerated, ie the bacteria had eaten into my flesh. I would't wait much longer then you already have. That much pain means something is seriously wrong whether it's strep or something else.
posted by LunaticFringe at 2:41 PM on February 6, 2009

Does sound like strep, and, as you very well may know, there is growing evidence of a connection between strep and Tourette's:

Children who had multiple strep infections over the course of a year had a 13-fold increase in risk for Tourette's.
posted by jamjam at 2:46 PM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: If your throat is closing up it's time to go to the doctor pretty much no matter what. And soon you'll be in the ER (if you don't have to go already) rather than the Doctor, which is going to be WAY more expensive than the Doctor.

There are lots of minute clinics in Columbus, OH. They can test you for strep or whatever you have or tell you if you need to run to an ER. The prices are really reasonable and they actually charge you the prices that are on the website. I went once when I was sick and panicked because I had no insurance, I was in and out in half an hour with a prescription. Very nice nurse. Other than free clinics it doesn't get a lot cheaper than this.
posted by whoaali at 2:59 PM on February 6, 2009

Response by poster: Jamjam: I'm impressed by your doing enough digging to deduce that I have Tourette's, but doesn't the the connection only work one way? Getting strep gives you a higher likelihood of developing TS, but having TS does not give you a higher risk for strep.

Everybody who is saying strep: I'm glad to have a name for my worst fear; all I remembered was "don't some infections not go away on their own? WILL I BE LIKE THIS FOREVER? Thankfully, it looks like strep does eventually go away on it's own...after horrible pain and possible complications.

The deadline: The OSU Medical Center has a free clinic on Thursday I can get to. My work schedule combined with a lack of a car and cash prevents me from seeing a doctor before then. Upon checking a calender, if I'm still sick on Thursday, I'll have been sick for at least nineteen days, with throat trouble for a week, so yeah, I will not have an excuse or complaint about seeing a doctor. Let's hope I'm one of the first 25 who actually gets medical care. Big ups, American health care system.

If anyone has any suggestions about how I can feel better until then, I'd appreciate it. The pity helps too.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2009

Unable to swallow, extreme pain, swollen nodes s/p uncomplicated upper respiratory infection? Fever/chills/weight loss? Bet you're dehydrated too. This might be more complicated. I'd definitely definitely go to a doctor. You MUST ask about peritonsilar abscess and the MD's reasons for not thinking it is so (if that's the case). (You could have had strep throat before since strep is the main cause of peritonsillar abscesses.)

I would not wait till Thursday. If you haven't really eaten for a week, you need to go to the Emergency Room. Yes it'll cost a lot, your life is worth more.
posted by ruwan at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2009

Came in to say that I had the same symptoms, only it was tonsillitis, and not something that went away without antibiotics.
posted by messylissa at 3:18 PM on February 6, 2009

I would seriously consider going to a Dr. before next Thursday, especially if it's already been over a week. My mother had untreated strep throat when I was a kid (for whatever reason she didn't know what it was?) and it developed into scarlet fever. By the time she got to the doctor she had two STRIPS of puss down the back of her throat. I was only like 6 at the time but I remember her being horribly ill for over a month and I believe she was put on medication for ever longer. I might be slightly exaggerating given I was 6, but there is a reason why people die from scarlet fever when you are playing Oregon Trail, it's bad.
posted by whoaali at 3:21 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's powerful additional (if needed after all of the above) encouragement to get this treated now. You may be able to negotiate the bill after you go in...but you can't negotiate away the potentially serious and long-term consequences of putting off getting treatment.

posted by mumstheword at 3:30 PM on February 6, 2009

Thursday is too late. You are already pretty sick, and can get a whole lot sicker by then. Beg someone to take you if necessary.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:31 PM on February 6, 2009

Nthing not waiting until Thursday. Get to a doctor tomorrow, by hook or by crook - bus, cab, friend. Monday at the absolute latest.
posted by gnutron at 3:39 PM on February 6, 2009

Please see a doctor right away. It sounds like a strep or staph infection, or possibly a peritonsillar abscess. Not a doctor (yet), but if it's to the point where you can't swallow, you must get it looked at.

If you need any more motivation, keep this in mind: just this morning, an ENT leading a small group discussion about head and neck issues told us that late last week, they had someone die from a sinus infection that spread to the brain. Dead. From a sinus infection.

Time for a MeFi Emergency Doctor's Fund for the uninsured?
posted by greatgefilte at 3:53 PM on February 6, 2009

If you can't swallow water, you might be dead of dehydration by Thursday, or at least require an expensive ER visit and an IV. I get that there is a risk that you'll pay for health services that aren't absolutely required, but at a certain point there is a huge risk of even greater cost from complications of neglecting treatment. Even if we take your health and suffering out of the equation, from a purely financial perspective, it's better to lose a small amount for an outpatient procedure than risk having to pay for an ambulance + hospitalization. Is there no one you can call to borrow money + a ride from? If I had a friend do this to themselves when they could have called me for help I'd be a lot more hurt than I would be pissed off at having had to lend money instead.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:30 PM on February 6, 2009


don't worry - if it is strep or some other bacteria, an antibiotic will very likely clear it up quickly.

I said this before- when you go to the doc, ask if they have any Z-pac samples around so you can at least avoid paying for a prescription.

Let us know what happens, would you...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 4:43 PM on February 6, 2009

Ohio Free Clinics

Seriously, go to the clinic ASAP and get down some Pedialyte, Gatorade, V8, bullion, or orange juice as soon as you can. You're getting dehydrated, and the more your electrolytes tank, the worse off you'll be. Gargle some antiseptic--dilute hydrogen peroxide will do; even mouthwash would help.
posted by aquafortis at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2009

Dude, here's the problem:

Your throat is swollen up enough that you can't swallow now. What happens when it swells up enough that you can't breathe at 4 o'clock in the morning?

Waiting until Thursday is, frankly, idiocy. $75 at CVS right now is way cheaper than several grand at an ER when you have to call an ambulance.

You either have friends or a knack for picking up random good looking strangers to hang out in your Flickr stream. Call them, in order, until one of them can help you get to a Minute clinic. Borrow the €75, or I'm sure we can take up a MeFi collection for you if you have PayPal. If they'll take a credit card by phone, I'm happy to cover it.

Just got to the fucking clinic already. Food, water and oxygen are your friends.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

..after horrible pain and possible complications.

Like not breathing. Everyone here knows I hate the medical system but dude- go in for this. Seriously. Don't wait til Thursday.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2009

Or, what DarlingBri said, including the PayPal offer.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:18 PM on February 6, 2009

nthing professional care asap. The combination of infection, dehydration, and potential breaking trouble are not something to mess with. Also:

Cepacol cough drops

are a godsend. I get horrific sore throats (my tonsils are so big my pediatrician used to call people in to gawk at them), and those are the only thing that help when things get to the bringing-tears-to-my-eyes stage. They taste nasty and make your tongue feel funny, but they should at least numb your throat enough that you'll get some water down.
posted by hippugeek at 5:22 PM on February 6, 2009

Also, if you're going to work with a strep infection (or even a flu) you are doing your coworkers and their families a dangerous disservice.

For instance, if I accidentally give my mom strep, she'll very likely die from it.

You don't know who around you is immunocompromised or has someone in their circle that is.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:26 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I second going before Thursday. When I was sixteen I had a case of strep I left untreated for about a week and it turned into Scarlet Fever. Next thing I know I am admitted into a hospital and quarantined for over a week. It caused permanent (but not very significant) hearing loss so it's not something to mess around with.

If you're absolutely not going to go before Thursday, at least keep on the lookout for a rash or for white patches in the back of the throat. Either of these probably means ER.
posted by Ugh at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2009

I totally forgot slippery elm tea/lozenges. Kind of slimy, but it lubricates your inflamed throat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:07 AM on February 7, 2009

Response by poster: Update, just in case any concerned Mefites are still worried I am going to die of something horrible:

I went to the CVS Minute Clinic (an option I would not have even considered without the awesomeness of Whoaali) and they didn't charge me a cent when my swab turned up negative for strep.

She checked my tonsils and lymph node, and rest assured, nothing's melting away or eating into my brain.

The tests are mostly accurate; I didn't care to send a second test to the lab. I'm going with my first instinct/hope that it's a viral infection that will go away on it's own, and if it doesn't improve by Thursday, I'm still going to the Free Clinic to get retested for strep and question why the holy hell I've been so sick for so long.

In case any miserable sick people who are having pain swallowing find this thread:

Gargling Chloraseptic has saved my goddamn life. The nurse practitioner suggested it instead of spraying it down my throat. Spraying it only hit my tonsils; by gargling it, the numbness spread farther down my throat where the real, ripping-stitches, grimacing-while-gulping pain was.

Halls Fruit Breezers, whose active ingredient is pectin, taste better than mentholated cough drops, and they work a tiny bit better. I'm going to check out the Cepacol; I've been using the Choloraseptic cough drops and regular Ricola, and they're not so hot.

Take a fuckton of ibuprofen/whatever religiously. No excuses. I weigh 90 pounds, and the fake-doctor-lady said 3 pills at a pop is safe for me. I am choosing to believe her, because it helps.

If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, apologize profusely, and then milk them for all they are worth. I sucked it up and asked for a ride to the clinic and not only did my random good looking stranger wait with me, he bought me honey for my tea and fed me soup and let me pass out in his bed at a totally grandma time of the evening and he is TOTALLY getting made fried chicken when I get better even if he won't kiss me on my mouth right now.

I've been drinking enough, and eating a little, so even though my life still sucks, i'm not going to die. Thank you for terrifying me enough to get me to a clinic, Metafilter; honestly, the knowledge that I don't have some horrible infection that's killing me quickly is almost as much relief as gargling Chloraseptic.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:01 AM on February 7, 2009 [6 favorites]

Great to hear it; thanks so much for telling us.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on February 7, 2009

Yay! I'm so glad you went in and I'm so glad it isn't something awful.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2009

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