What Is the Difference Between Strep Throat and Sore Throat?

Reviewed on 2/8/2021

What are strep throat and sore throat?

Strep throat and sore throat are throat infections. Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. Sore throat is a viral or a bacterial infection of the throat, although more than 90 percent of cases are caused by a virus.
Strep throat and sore throat are throat infections. Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. Sore throat is a viral or a bacterial infection of the throat, although more than 90 percent of cases are caused by a virus.

You feel pain in your throat and suddenly it hurts to swallow. Is it a sore throat or something more serious? Strep throat and sore throat are fairly common conditions that can affect anyone, especially children. 

What is strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. It’s caused by bacteria called Group A Streptococcus (group A strep). 

This common throat infection can come on suddenly and worsen quickly within one or two days. Strep throat also spreads easily. If left untreated, it can cause serious complications. The good news is that it’s easy to treat.  

What is sore throat? 

A sore throat is a viral or bacterial infection of the throat. The back part of the throat is called the pharynx, so the scientific name for sore throat is pharyngitis

Almost 90% of throat infections are caused by a virus. You can get a sore throat by itself, or it can accompany other illnesses. 

Symptoms of strep throat and sore throat 

Both throat conditions can have similar symptoms at the start. It can be hard to differentiate between sore throat and strep throat. 

There are a few important differences that you can identify if you pay close attention to your symptoms. 

Symptoms of strep throat

A prominent feature of strep throat is its lack of a cough and runny nose

If you have strep, you can experience: 

Group A strep bacteria are the most common bacterial cause of tonsillitis. You could develop tonsillitis from having strep throat. 

Symptoms of sore throat

A sore throat is usually caused by a virus. 

The symptoms of a viral sore throat are: 

  • A red, inflamed throat
  • Dry hoarse cough
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Mild fever 

Causes of strep throat and sore throat 

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Strep throat is caused by bacteria called group A strep. 

Anyone can get a sore throat or strep throat. Strep throat is more common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. This is mostly due to the fact that school-age children come into contact with many other children daily. 

Strep throat spreads easily. Adults who care for school-age children are at a higher risk of developing strep throat.  

Causes of strep throat

Strep throat is caused by bacteria, which spread to you through direct contact with someone who is infected. 

It can be spread when droplets from an infected person travel in sneezes and coughs. You could also get it from sharing clothes, dishes, or bed sheets with someone who has the bacteria. 

Causes of sore throat

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Many viruses are contagious. You can get a virus by coming into contact with someone who is infected. 

Sore throats can also be caused by: 

You can have a sore throat and a cold or a strain of the flu at the same time.

Diagnosis of strep throat or sore throat

If you or your child has a persistent sore throat that worsens quickly and is accompanied by fever, you should visit your doctor

They’ll inspect the throat and examine your symptoms. Doctors can’t tell if you have strep throat just by looking in your mouth. They’ll need to do a test to make sure the bacteria is present. 

Your doctor can perform a rapid strep test that gives results almost immediately. If the test comes back negative but they still suspect strep, they can take a swab from your throat and test it for a bacterial culture

It can take a few days to get the results of a throat culture, but it is a more comprehensive test and can pick up things the rapid strep test can miss. 

If you see the doctor for your sore throat, they will likely want to test you for strep throat. If both a rapid strep test and throat culture come back negative for strep bacteria, a virus is likely causing your sore throat. 

Treatments for strep throat and sore throat

Strep throat is caused by bacteria. You will need an antibiotic prescribed by a physician to get rid of strep throat. An antibiotic will get rid of the infection and ease your symptoms within a day or two.  

It’s important to finish the entire course of antibiotics your doctor prescribes. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics for strep throat are: 

Tell your doctor if you have an allergy to penicillin. They will prescribe another antibiotic for you. 

Once you’ve been on antibiotics for 24 hours, your strep throat infection is no longer contagious. It’s important to finish the entire course of antibiotics your doctor prescribes even after your symptoms are gone. If you don’t, the infection could return.

If treated improperly or left untreated, strep throat can cause several complications including rheumatic fever. People who suffer from rheumatic fever can have high fever, achy joints, chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Heart complications can also arise from rheumatic fever.  

If your sore throat is caused by a virus, there isn’t much that your physician can do. The virus will run its course, usually within 7 to 10 days. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) remedies like throat numbing spray or lozenges. These will help to ease your symptoms.  

If your sore throat is caused by another reason such as an allergy or fungal infection, your physician will prescribe another course of treatment.

QUESTION

Just about any painful sore throat is caused by strep. See Answer

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References
SOURCES:

Cedars Sinai: "How Can I Tell if a Sore Throat is Strep Throat?"

Cedars Sinai: "Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Group A Streptococcal (GAS) Disease."

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School: "Sore Throat (Pharyngitis)."

Healthychildren.org: "The Difference between a Sore Throat, Strep & Tonsillitis."

Mayo Clinic: "Tonsillitis."

NHSBorders: "Streptococcal infections: important information."

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