Understanding the difference between strep throat and sore throat starts by defining the terms. Strep throat is a contagious bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils by group A Streptococcus or strep. Someone can catch the infection by breathing in or touching infected droplets from a cough or sneeze or by ingesting the droplets through shared eating utensils. Strep infection is far more common in children and teenagers than in adults.
A sore throat is a symptom of a throat infection, not a medical condition in its own right. The main symptom of strep throat, a sore throat, can also develop for other reasons, such as the flu or another viral illness. Most sore throats are due to viruses.
How bad is your sore throat?
A strep throat typically causes pain when swallowing and may be more painful than a sore throat from a virus. With strep throat, a very sore throat may develop quickly with a fever. Other common symptoms include:
- Fever of 38°C or higher
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- White patches in the throat or on the tonsils
- Red spots or marks on the top of the mouth
Other less common symptoms include headache, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and body aches.
Sore throats from viral infections tend to happen gradually. If you have strep throat, you usually do not have a cough. A sore throat from a virus is more likely to have a cough with it, along with other cold symptoms like:
- A runny nose
- A hoarse voice
- An eye infection commonly called “pink eye” (conjunctivitis)
A viral sore throat will typically go away as cold symptoms lessen.
See your doctor if the sore throat causes trouble swallowing, lasts longer than 48 hours, or comes with a fever or rash. Strep throat will not go away on its own, and if not treated with antibiotics, it can develop into something more serious, especially in children. That’s because young people have a higher risk of strep throat-related rheumatic fever than adults. Symptoms should start to improve within two days.
How to prevent strep throat?
The following steps can prevent the spread of strep throat:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
- Avoid sharing eating utensils with someone who is sick with strep throat
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper sleeve or elbow if you don’t have a tissue.
If you or your child has a sore throat that doesn’t seem to improve, request an appointment with your general practitioner for medical attention.
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