How To Tell The Difference Between Strep Throat And A Sore Throat

Pain in the throat can make everyday functions such as eating, speaking, and swallowing absolute misery. In some cases, it can be difficult to determine the cause of your throat pain, as strep throat and sore throat can share some overlap in symptoms. However, each condition also has its marked differences.

A sore throat can be brought on by many things, including food intolerances, environmental allergens, viruses, or bacterial infections in some instances, reports GoHealth Urgent Care. While a sore throat can stem from various different sources, strep throat, on the other hand, comes on exclusively due to a bacterial infection that's transferred through respiratory droplets or skin contact with group A strep bacteria sores (via U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In addition to differences in their causes, strep throat and sore throat often have a few distinct symptoms of their own. For instance, an allergy or virus-related sore throat may be accompanied by a cough, congestion, or a runny nose (per Go Health Urgent Care). However, this is not the case for strep throat. With strep throat, a patient may instead experience fever, the presence of white patches or streaks on swollen tonsils, or red bumps (called petechiae) covering the roof of the mouth, reports the CDC. Kids, in particular, may experience headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Testing and treatment methods

The only way to definitively determine if your throat pain is due to a sore throat or a case of strep throat is to take a test. Using a throat swab, your doctor will administer a rapid strep test. However, rapid strep tests can produce a false negative test result in up to 15% of infected individuals, reports GoHealth Urgent Care. As a backup, your physician may utilize an additional throat culture to confirm the results. In the event of a positive test result, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for treatment, often penicillin or amoxicillin. Be sure to finish the full round of antibiotics as prescribed in order to ensure that your body is fully rid of the bacteria. 

In the event that your doctor determines your throat pain to be a case of the sore throat rather than strep throat, you may be able to treat your symptoms at home. Drinking plenty of warm fluids, gargling with salt water, as well as using medicated lozenges, throat sprays, or a humidifier may all help relieve the discomfort of a sore throat as your body rests and recovers.