Strep throat and sore throat health facts
- Sore throats are primarily caused by a viral infection from a cold or flu, resulting in irritation, scratchiness and/or pain that becomes worse when swallowing.
- A sore throat is the second most common reason people visit a primary care provider, though only an estimated 1 in 10 people with a sore throat decide to see a doctor for care.
- Sore throats occur more in the fall and winter, and are more prevalent in young children in a school environment.
- Strep throat is a common condition caused by a throat infection from the bacteria A Streptococcus.
- Strep throat causes a sore throat, but one that often has persistent soreness/pain and more severe symptoms.
- A medical provider must treat a strep throat so it does not cause more severe complications like kidney inflammation, rheumatic fever, and in rare cases death.
Jump to a topic:
- What is a sore throat?
- Sore throat symptoms
- Sore throat remedies & medicines
- How to prevent sore throat
- What is strep throat?
- Strep throat symptoms
- Strep throat diagnosis
- Strep throat treatment
- When to see a primary care provider for a sore throat or strep throat
Is it strep throat or just a sore throat?
Even after a physical examination, our providers can only diagnose the cause of a person’s sore throat by performing one of two tests.
Rapid antigen test: swabbing the throat to test for A Streptococcus (A strep) bacteria. This only takes a few minutes.
Throat culture: a throat swab, then waiting to see if A strep bacteria grows from the swab. The benefit of a throat culture over a rapid antigen test is that it can find A strep that the rapid test misses.
If a person experiences some of the symptoms of strep throat listed below and suspects strep throat, he or she should call us. We may recommend an appointment.
What is a sore throat (throat infection)?
A sore throat (also called pharyngitis) is pain or irritation most often caused by a cold or the flu virus. It usually resolves on its own. Sore throat is often the first sign of a cold and only stays around for a day or two. It is also associated with other cold symptoms such as congestion, cough and a runny nose.
But some sore throats are caused by a bacterial infection, one of which is A Streptococcus (strep throat). Other causes of a sore throat can be allergies, irritants, gastroesophageal reflux disorder and HIV.
According to the National Institutes of Health, sore throat is the second highest reason people visit a primary care provider. But only an estimated 10% of people with a sore throat will actually seek medical care.
Risk factors for a sore throat include smoking or being exposed to tobacco smoke, chronic infections, poor immune system, and living with others in close quarters.
Sore throat symptoms
Depending on the cause of the sore throat, symptoms can include:
- Pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat.
- Pain that worsens when talking or swallowing.
- Hoarse or muffled voice.
- Swollen glands in the neck.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Sore throat remedies & medicines
To treat a sore throat, we may prescribe antibiotics to impede the spread of bacteria and kill the infection. At-home treatments include:
- Rest. Fighting infections uses much of the body’s energy. Getting plenty of sleep replenishes and strengthens the body to maintain health.
- Hydrate. Water helps clear the body of toxins. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- We may also recommend throat lozenges or over-the-counter medications to alleviate sore throat symptoms.
How to prevent sore throat
We encourage patients to try preventing a sore throat by following these steps:
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue and discard it to keep from spreading a sore throat.
- Wash hands thoroughly, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when washing isn’t possible.
- Avoid being in contact with people who have a sore throat, and don’t share food, utensils or drinks with them.
- Keep areas clean. Germs can easily spread throughout the home and workspace. Maintaining a clean environment protects people from potentially harmful pathogens.
- Cover coughs and sneezes. People can contain the spread of the virus by using a tissue or the inner crook of the elbow when they cough and/or sneeze (if sneezing into the hands, wash them afterward).
What is strep throat?
Strep throat is a common condition caused by an infection of the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, also called group A Streptococcus and A strep.
Strep throat results in inflammation and pain in the throat, as does a normal sore throat. But with strep throat, the sore throat is often persistent and more severe. Additionally, a person with strep will typically not have a cough.
Although it affects people of all ages, children between the ages of 5 and 15 experience higher rates of strep throat.
Strep throat symptoms & signs
Symptoms typically develop within five days of exposure to the bacteria and vary from person to person. Mild symptoms may include a sore throat. Fevers of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and difficulty swallowing may occur in more severe cases.
Other symptoms include:
- A red throat with white patches.
- Throat pain that comes on quickly.
- Pain when swallowing.
- A headache, chills, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Strep throat diagnosis
Our providers will examine the patient’s throat and talk about symptoms to see if the signs point to strep throat. If so, we will do either a rapid antigen test or a throat culture.
Strep throat treatment
Antibiotics are the gold standard treatment for strep throat. Antibiotics are taken orally and can:
- Reduce symptom severity.
- Shorten symptom duration.
- Reduce risk of spreading the bacteria.
- Result in patient improvement in 1 or 2 days.
- Prevent complications from strep throat (below).
Additionally, over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help alleviate discomfort from symptoms.
If the strep throat does not seem to be improving after two days of taking antibiotics and OTC medications, come see us again. We need to make sure the infection is not spreading in the body. Complications such as the following can occur.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Rheumatic fever.
- Kidney disease.
- Sinus infection.
- Ear infection.
- Pus around tonsils.
When to see a primary care provider for a sore throat or strep throat
Adults or children with sore throat or strep throat symptoms should seek medical care in the following cases.
- Sore throat or fever lasting more than 2 days.
- Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in older children.
- Hoarseness lasting more than 2 weeks.
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing.
- Problems opening the mouth.
- A lump in the neck.
- Joint pain.
- Swollen lymph glands.
- Blood in phlegm or saliva.
- Recurring sore throats.
Take the next steps at HealthFit
Children are particularly susceptible to sore throat and strep throat, though both conditions can affect people of any age. If symptoms become a concern, come see us to diagnose the underlying cause and get treatment to prevent more serious complications.