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Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat: Know the Signs

November 17, 2023

A sore throat is a common ailment that most people have experienced at some point in their lives. However, paying attention to the symptoms is essential as they could indicate a more severe condition: strep throat. Knowing the signs and differences between regular sore throat and strep throat can help you determine the best course of treatment and prevent potential complications.

In this blog, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatments for both types of throat infections so you can be better equipped to combat them. Get ready to learn everything you need about sore throat vs. strep throat.

How strep throat differs from sore throat

Strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis, is a bacterial infection caused by the streptococcus bacteria. It is highly contagious and can be spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Strep throat most commonly affects children and teenagers, but adults can also get it.

On the other hand, sore throat is a common symptom of many illnesses and can refer to any discomfort, pain, or scratchiness in the throat. Viruses, allergies, dry air, or irritants like smoke or pollution can cause a sore throat. It can also be a symptom of a more severe condition, such as tonsillitis or mononucleosis.

While many people use the terms interchangeably, there are a few critical differences between strep throat and sore throat. The main difference is that a bacterial infection causes strep throat, while a sore throat can have various causes, such as viruses or allergies. Additionally, strep throat tends to have more severe and sudden symptoms, while a sore throat may develop more gradually.

Common causes and symptoms of sore throats

Understanding the causes and symptoms of sore throats can help you take the necessary steps to alleviate your discomfort. Here’s a list of the most common causes and symptoms of sore throats:

Causes of sore throats

  1. Viral infections

The most common cause of sore throats is a viral infection, such as the common cold or flu. These infections can be easily spread through coughing, sneezing, or touching contaminated surfaces.

  1. Bacterial infections

Less commonly, sore throats can be caused by bacterial infections, such as strep throat. You may also experience swelling and redness in the throat, difficulty swallowing, and white patches on the tonsils. Bacterial infections can be more severe and may require antibiotics for treatment.

  1. Allergies

Seasonal allergies can also cause a sore throat due to postnasal drip. When allergens irritate the nasal passages, excess mucus can drip down the back of the throat, causing inflammation and irritation in the throat.

  1. Dry air

Dry air can also be a culprit for sore throats, especially during the winter when heaters are constantly running. Dry air can irritate the throat and cause discomfort. Drinking fluids and using a humidifier can help alleviate this sore throat.

  1. Acid reflux

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. This can lead to irritation and inflammation, causing a sore throat.

Symptoms of sore throats

  1. Soreness and irritation

The most apparent symptom of a sore throat is the soreness itself. It can range from a mild irritation to a more severe pain that makes it uncomfortable to swallow or even talk.

  1. Swollen glands

You may notice swollen glands in your neck when you have a sore throat. This is a sign that your lymph nodes are working hard to fight off the infection.

  1. Difficulty swallowing

In severe cases, a sore throat can make swallowing difficult and painful. This can also be accompanied by a feeling of something stuck in your throat.

  1. Hoarseness or loss of voice

This could be a sign of laryngitis if your sore throat is accompanied by hoarseness or loss of voice. This occurs when the vocal cords become inflamed, making speaking difficult.

  1. Coughing and sneezing

A sore throat may also be accompanied by a cough or sneezing, mainly caused by a viral infection or allergies. This is your body's way of trying to rid itself of the irritants.

Common causes and symptoms of strep throat

Now, let’s discuss strep throat's most common causes and symptoms:

Causes of strep throat

  1. Streptococcus bacteria 

The most common cause of strep throat is the streptococcus bacteria. This bacteria is highly contagious and can be easily spread through coughing, sneezing, and close contact with an infected person.

  1. Weakened immune system 

Individuals with a weakened immune system are more susceptible to strep throat. This can be due to underlying health conditions, inadequate nutrition, and certain medications.

  1. Crowded and close-quarters

Strep throat can quickly spread in crowded and close-quarter environments such as schools, daycare centers, and military barracks.

  1. Poor hygiene

Poor hygiene habits, such as not washing hands properly, can increase the risk of contracting strep throat.

  1. Age

Strep throat is more common in children aged 5 to 15 years, but it can affect people of all ages.

Symptoms of strep throat

  1. Sudden and severe sore throat

One of the most common symptoms of strep throat is a sudden and severe sore throat. The pain may be accompanied by difficulty swallowing, making it hard to eat or drink.

  1. Red and swollen tonsils

Strep throat can cause inflammation and swelling of the tonsils, making them appear red and enlarged.

  1. White patches or pus on the throat

Some people with strep throat may have white patches or pus on their throat, which is a sign of infection.

  1. Fever

Strep throat can cause a high-grade fever, usually above 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

  1. Headache and body aches

Many people with strep throat experience headaches and body aches, which can be mild to severe.

  1. Nausea and vomiting

In some cases, strep throat can cause nausea and vomiting, especially in young children.

  1. Enlarged lymph nodes

Strep throat can cause the lymph nodes in the neck to become swollen and tender to the touch.

  1. Difficulty breathing

In rare cases, strep throat can cause difficulty breathing, which may require immediate medical attention.

Treatment options for strep and sore throat

Strep and sore throat may result in severe complications if not adequately treated. As such, seeking prompt treatment to address the infection and relieve symptoms is crucial. Fortunately, several treatment choices are available for treating strep and sore throat.

  1. Antibiotics 

These medications kill the bacteria responsible for the infection. It is essential to complete the entire course of antibiotics as your healthcare provider prescribes, even if you start feeling better. This will ensure that the infection is fully cleared and prevent any recurrence.

  1. Pain relievers 

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help reduce the discomfort and inflammation associated with strep throat. These medications can also help lower fever, a common symptom of strep throat.

  1. Saltwater gargle 

This simple and inexpensive solution can help reduce inflammation and soothe a sore throat. Mix half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and gargle for a few seconds before spitting it out. Repeat this remedy several times a day for relief.

  1. Honey 

Honey has natural antibacterial properties and can help alleviate the symptoms of strep throat. It can soothe a sore throat and cough; its smooth texture can help coat and protect the throat. Add honey to warm tea, or take a spoonful to experience its soothing effects.

  1. Stay hydrated 

Drinking plenty of fluids is essential when dealing with a sore throat. It can help thin mucus, moisten the throat, and prevent dehydration. Water, warm tea, and soup are all great options. Avoid acidic drinks like citrus juices, as they can irritate the throat.

  1. Rest 

Rest is essential when fighting any infection. It allows your body to focus on combating the illness and promotes a faster recovery. Get enough sleep and avoid activities that can strain your body.

  1. Throat lozenges 

Throat lozenges can temporarily relieve a sore throat by numbing the throat and soothing irritation. Look for lozenges containing menthol, eucalyptus, or benzocaine for maximum relief.

Visit Windermere for Expert Care and Wellness Exams Near You

Don't let a sore throat ruin your day - it could be a sign of something more serious like strep throat. It's essential to know the differences and seek medical attention if needed. At Windermere Medical Group, we offer top-notch wellness exams near you to keep your health in check. 

Let our experienced team diagnose and treat your sore throat or strep throat. You can visit one of our conveniently located clinics near your area.

Don't wait any longer, schedule your appointment today and experience the exceptional care we provide. Your health and wellness are our top priorities. Don't settle for anything less. Trust Windermere Medical Group for all your healthcare needs. Book now and take the first step towards a healthier you!


The material on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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