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Nurses: How to Diagnose a Sore Throat

Higher Education Articles October 21, 2013

The nursing diagnosis for a sore throat is something that most nurses have to deal with on a daily basis. Sore throats are one of the most common complaints for most people, and they can be an indicator of several different types of health issues. Luckily, the protocol for diagnosing a sore throat is fairly straightforward, and it is something that will become like second nature to most nurses.

The Preliminary Exam and the Physical Exam that nurses use to diagnose a sore throat is typically the same for both children and adults. It consists of the following three steps:

•Using a light to examine the throat as well as the nose and ears
•Feeling the neck to check for swollen glands
•Listening to the patient’s breathing using a stethoscope

If the nurse cannot determine the source of the sore throat using those three steps, he or she may want to proceed to a throat swab, a complete blood cell count, or an allergy test. In some cases, the nurse may decide to send the patient to a specialist for more extensive testing.

The Throat Swab

The next step in a nursing diagnosis for sore throat involves a throat swab. During this simple test, the nurse will rub the back of the patient’s throat with a cotton swab. The secretion that has been collected on the swab will be sent to the lab to determine what may be ailing the patient. In most cases, the lab can test the throat secretions in just a few minutes, but in other cases, it may take twenty four to forty eight hours to get an accurate test result. Most labs test the throat secretions for streptococcal bacteria right away, and they get the results right away. This is the bacteria that cause strep throat. If that test comes back positive, the nurse or doctor will typically prescribe some drugs to the patient. If strep or another bacterial infection is thought to have caused the sore throat, the nurse or doctor will normally prescribe penicillin to the patient.

Oral penicillin is the most common type of antibiotic treatment for most patients. The course of this treatment usually lasts for ten days. Many patients will start to feel better after just a few days. However, they must complete the entire course for the drugs to work correctly. Failure to continue the entire course of the penicillin prescription can lead to more serious issues like rheumatic fever, kidney inflammation, or the spread of infection throughout the body. If that test comes back negative, the swab will be sent to a second lab where it can be tested for various types of viral infections. If the infection is viral, there is usually nothing that can be done. However, the patient’s symptoms will abate in five to seven days even without drugs. In most circumstances, a throat swab is an adequate tool for a nursing diagnosis for sore throat. In certain circumstances, there will need to be more tests.

Complete Blood Cell Count (CBC)

If the doctor or nurse cannot determine the source of the sore throat using a throat swab, they may order a CBC. This test examines the count of the different types of blood cells in the patients’ blood. If certain cells are higher or lower than normal, it may indicate that the patient has a particular issue, and the nurse can react accordingly.

Allergy Tests

Some sore throats are an indicator of an allergy. If a nurse suspects that a patient’s sore throat is an allergic reaction to something, they can do an allergy test. These tests may discover allergies about which the patient had no idea.

Other Options

If it is not possible to create an accurate nursing diagnosis for sore throat, the nurse may elect to refer patients to a specialist. This step is usually taken if the patient has chronic sore throats that may signify a more serious condition. These patients may be sent to an otolaryngologist or another type of specialist who can help them.

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