Sore Throat or Strep Throat?

December 12, 2017
Sore throat or strep throat

When your throat hurts, it can be difficult to tell whether you’ve got a run-of-the-mill sore throat or a more serious case of strep throat. While only a lab test performed by a healthcare provider can tell you for sure whether it’s strep throat, there are certain signs and symptoms that can indicate strep.

Though it accounts for only a small percentage of sore throats, strep throat can cause serious complications, so you should see a doctor right away if you suspect that you have it. To determine whether you should seek strep testing and treatment for your sore throat, consider the following.

What Causes a Sore Throat?

Also known as pharyngitis, a sore throat is most commonly caused by a viral infection, such as the flu or common cold. These types of viral infections cause swelling in the back of the throat, which can lead to discomfort.

Sore Throat Symptoms

The most common symptom of a sore throat is, of course, a painful or scratchy feeling in the throat. This can be accompanied by difficulty or increased pain when swallowing, hoarseness or increased pain when talking, red and swollen tonsils, and sore and swollen lymph nodes and glands in the jaw and neck area.

Since most viral sore throats are caused by a cold or the flu, additional symptoms may also be present, including:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills

Sore Throat Treatment

Most viral sore throats go away on their own in a few days with no medical intervention—and since antibiotics don’t work on viral infections, it’s not effective to take them. In extreme cases, antiviral medications may be administered. 

However, you can ease symptoms with over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants. You can also try home remedies to soothe a sore throat, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of liquids, either hot or cold
  • Avoiding dairy products, which can increase the production of mucus and worsen cold and flu symptoms including a sore throat
  • Gargling several times per day with warm salt water
  • Sucking on throat lozenges, hard candies, or fruit-flavored popsicles
  • Using a humidifier to moisten the air
  • Taking a spoonful of honey either on its own or mixed into tea or hot water

What Causes Strep Throat?

Strep throat is caused by a group A streptococcus bacterial infection. It spreads by contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person, which can be passed on through respiratory droplets produced when talking, sneezing, or coughing—often between family and household members.

Strep Throat Symptoms

Strep throat causes symptoms similar to those of a viral sore throat, but there are several specific symptoms that are considered to be hallmarks of strep, such as:

  • Throat pain that comes on suddenly
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Swollen and red tonsils
  • White patches, red dots, or pus in the back of the mouth
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Rash that commonly begins on the chest and stomach and soon spreads to the ears, neck, and other parts of the body (this type of rash indicates scarlet fever, which is also caused by group A streptococcus bacteria)
  • Body aches

Strep Throat Testing

Again, the only way to be sure whether you have strep throat or a viral sore throat is to see a medical provider, who will perform a physical exam and order one or more lab tests using a swab sample from your throat, such as a:

  • Rapid antigen test
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
  • Throat culture

Strep Throat Treatment

Most cases of strep throat are treated with oral antibiotics. Especially when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, antibiotics can reduce symptom duration and severity as well as lower the risk of complications and the chances of spreading the infection. Most patients start feeling better within a day or two of beginning a course of antibiotics. However, it’s essential to finish out the entire course even if you feel completely better, as it helps prevent recurrence and complications like rheumatic fever and kidney inflammation.

Your provider may also recommend over-the-counter medications to help reduce fever and relieve symptoms.

When to Seek Help

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents take their child to the doctor when a sore throat does not go away after the first drink of water in the morning. For adults, the American Academy of Otolaryngology suggests a medical evaluation in response to any of the following symptoms:

  • Sore throats that persist after a week
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Trouble opening the mouth
  • Rash, earache, or joint pain
  • A fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • A lump in the neck
  • Bloody phlegm or saliva
  • Hoarseness that lasts longer than two weeks

Why Choose PhysicianOne Urgent Care for Strep Throat Testing & Treatment?

PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here for you no matter when and where you need care. Walk-ins are welcome at all of our locations, which are open 365 days per year with extended hours. We also offer convenient 24/7 integrated virtual care. We can conduct rapid strep throat testing in our on-site labs and prescribe any necessary medication on the spot, so you can start feeling better right away. We take most major insurance plans, have reasonable self-pay rates, and never require referrals. To get a definitive answer to whether you have a viral sore throat or strep throat, visit one of our locations today.

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