Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat
You know your throat hurts, but you are not sure why. This is a common scenario because a sore throat can mean anything from the common cold, to flu, to mono, to strep throat.1 It may be due to a viral or bacterial infection, dryness, allergens, and even muscle strain.
The symptoms of strep throat and sore throat from the common cold are similar, making it hard to tell which one you might have. What is the difference between strep throat and sore throat? Consider some facts about each that might help you understand them.
What is strep throat?
First, is strep throat viral or bacterial? Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by a type of bacteria, group A streptococcus.2 The bacteria responsible for this infection are commonly found in the throat or on the skin. It is essential to get a proper diagnosis if you think you have strep throat for two reasons:
- The infection is contagious, so you can pass it to friends, coworkers, and families.
- The infection can cause more serious illnesses such as rheumatic fever if it is not treated.3
What What is a sore throat?
For most people, a sore throat is a symptom of the common cold. The soreness is from laryngitis, which is an inflammation of the elements in the throat, such as the voice box (larynx), or from tracheitis which is an inflammation of the membrane lining the trachea. Some people also experience a sore throat with a more advanced infection such as bronchitis.4
The most common cause of a sore throat is viral infections for most people. Strep throat is common, but for most, a sore throat is a symptom of a viral infection, not a bacterial one.
Strep throat vs sore throat symptoms
Although these two conditions are similar, there are some differences in the symptoms. Someone with strep throat is likely to experience:5
- Red and swollen tonsils. If you look at the throat through the mouth, you might see white patches.
- Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth.
- Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck.
- Sudden fever, often 101˚F (38˚C) or higher.
- Pain when swallowing.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea or vomiting – this is common in young children with strep.
Strep is a bacterial infection that can spread via droplets from the mouth or nose. It can also spread quickly. It is essential that you see a physician or healthcare provider if you suspect you have strep throat.
Common symptoms of a viral infection or the common cold include:6
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes
- Mild headache
- Painful swallowing
- Mild body aches
- Mild fever.
You’ll see some similarities between these two illnesses, but the symptoms have many differences. For example, a high fever typically means a strep infection5. On the other hand, lower, more mild fevers could indicate a viral infection such as a cold.
Another key difference in symptoms is the fact that strep throat may cause white patches on the back of the throat/tonsils5.
It is critical to note that the diagnosis of strep throat must come from a healthcare provider and would require a throat culture for testing5. Someone with a cold might still want to see a physician, but most colds resolve on their own.
How can one manage their sore throat symptoms?
Home remedies, such as the following may help with a sore throat 7
- Gargle with warm liquid – Warm salt water is the best option for those over the age of eight. The warm water may help reduce the swelling in the throat and lessen pain.
- Get plenty of rest – This gives your body the energy it needs to fight off the infection.
- Eat a healthy diet – The healthier your lifestyle, the more robust your immune system.
- Take hot showers – The steam from the shower will help loosen mucus and soothe the throat.
- Add honey to a warm drink like tea – Honey has natural soothing and antiviral properties. Honey should never be given to children under the age on one year as it contains toxic bacteria that may cause infant botulism .8
- Add oregano oil to a steam diffuser or a bowl of hot water and breath in the steam. – There is some evidence that oregano oil may effectively ease a sore throat.9
Certain over-the-counter medications can also help ease the pain of the sore throat. BENYLIN® Extra Strength Sore Throat and Cough Syrup, helps soothe a sore throat and fight a wet cough. If you are suffering from chest congestion along with sore throat irritation, BENYLIN® Cough and Chest Congestion Syrup can help alleviate a cough while soothing your throat.
How to manage strep throat symptoms?
Strep throat needs medical evaluation and treatment, typically with antibiotics5. In addition, some of the same home care tips for a sore throat would be beneficial for strep, such as gargling with warm salt water or drinking warm liquids.
As with most things, the best cure is prevention. You may help reduce your chances of getting a sore throat, either from a cold or strep, by5:
- Avoiding people who have an infection as infections can spread from person to person.
- Washing your hands often. This will help keep you from spreading the microbes you may pick up.
- Avoid sharing eating utensils. Saliva can contain bacteria and viruses.
- If you need to sneeze, do it into a tissue or your elbow, not in your hand. This keeps droplets that can carry a disease from entering the air.
- Frequently sanitize shared surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs, and television remotes. This can help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria from surfaces to your hands.
One of your best tools again getting sick is to keep yourself healthy. That means eating right and getting regular exercise.10
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