When your throat hurts, it can dramatically affect your quality of life, impeding your ability to swallow, speak, or sleep peacefully. But what causes a sore throat and how does one distinguish it from strep throat? Are they the same thing? Find out how to tell the difference between sore throat and strep throat symptoms, what causes both, and when to see a doctor.
Sore vs. Strep Throat Symptoms
Whether you have a sore throat or strep throat, the most obvious sign is pain. While it’s common to confuse a cold-related sore throat with strep throat, there are notable differences, with strep throat being more severe. A viral sore throat typically comes with other cold-like symptoms, such as a cough, sneeze, runny nose and a noticeably raspy voice. According to Family Nurse Practitioner Rosemary Schairer, “A strep infection can make it feel very painful to swallow, and often comes with fever of 101-degrees or higher.”1 She notes that it is also more common among children than adults.
Symptoms of strep throat may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, typically with red splotches
- Tiny red dots on roof of mouth
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Symptoms that last 48 hours or longer
Sore & Strep Throat Causes
According to the CDC, viruses are the most common cause of a sore throat.2 However, strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils that is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep). Group A strep live in the throat and nose and is highly contagious. People who have strep pass the bacteria via coughing or sneezing.
Can a Sore Throat Turn into Strep Throat?
Strep throat can only be caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. If you already have a sore throat from a cold, it can become strep throat if you come into contact with this bacteria through another person who has it (or an object they touched).
However, strep throat may turn into a more serious illness if left untreated. Scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and poststreptococcal disorder can all be caused by strep throat.3 It is also possible to have a cold and strep throat at the same time, as a viral and bacterial infection can occur simultaneously.
How Long Is Strep Throat Contagious?
If you have been infected with strep throat, you may be contagious for 2-3 weeks if you don’t seek treatment, whereas if you are taking antibiotics, you may only be contagious for around 24 hours.4 It is crucial at this time to practice good hygiene like hand washing and putting your used tissues in the trash can so you do not spread your infection. You should also limit your interaction with others.
When to See a Doctor
Doctors often treat strep throat with antibiotics, so if you suspect that your sore throat is actually strep throat, consider getting a strep test or throat culture to determine if group A strep is the cause.
Brillia Health’s products may also help ease the symptoms of sore throat caused by a common cold and strep throat, making the recovery process easier. Even if you are taking antibiotics, Brillia Health’s Cough Control is a safe product without contraindications, which can help relieve symptoms until the prescribed medication starts working. Cough Control uses antibodies to bradykinin, morphine, and histamine, molecules that contribute to sore throat pain as well as chest and nasal congestion, chest tightness, and coughing. The antibodies work by targeting these molecules and effectively stopping them from producing these symptoms. And this is achieved without harsh chemicals or harmful side effects associated with other over-the-counter medications like nausea, abdominal pain, increase in blood pressure, restlessness, and even liver damage.5 Find out more about how Brillia Health products work.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.