Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat

A sore throat is a painful nuisance that can have a multitude of causes. Allergens, viral infections, postnasal drip, dry air, and environmental irritants (like cigarette smoke or harsh chemicals) can all cause a sore throat. In most cases, a sore throat will resolve itself in three to seven days.

Strep throat, on the other hand, is caused by a bacterial infection from the Group A strain of Streptococcus. The illness is easily spread from person to person, and can lead to more serious conditions such as tonsil and sinus infections, and rheumatic fever.

If you’re concerned that your sore throat may be strep throat, there’s a quick, painless test your doctor can perform. Only a doctor can diagnose strep throat, but there are some symptoms that can indicate strep throat. If you have any of the below symptoms, consult your physician.

  • Sudden sore throat
  • Red tonsils with white spots
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Fever
  • Swollen thyroid
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your provider suspects strep throat, there are two tests that can be done to confirm the diagnosis. A rapid swab test can render results in minutes. Your doctor simply dabs the back of your throat with a cotton swab and tests for the presence of strep bacteria. The second option, a throat culture, takes up to two days to return results but can pick up traces of bacteria that a rapid swab test may miss.

Patients who test positive for strep throat are prescribed antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin, to help reduce healing time, ease symptoms, minimize the risk of spreading the infection to others and prevent the more serious ailments discussed above.

It’s important that you take your full course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better while you still have a few doses left. Never request antibiotics for a viral infection; this can cause resistance to antibiotics and make future treatment with antibiotics less effective.

Prevention Tips

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from strep throat and other illnesses are to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils or drinking after others. If you know someone who has strep throat, it’s advisable to limit contact with that person until they’re well. If you are ill, be sure to cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing. There’s no vaccine for strep throat.

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