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Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat Symptoms: How to Tell The Difference


So, you wake up one morning and your throat (or worse, your child’s throat) is itchy, inflamed, and irritated.

It’s a sore throat.

Or is it?

Sign and symptoms of a sore throat (scientifically called pharyngitis) can just as easily be the beginnings of something more serious: strep throat (Streptococcal Pharyngitis) caused by strep bacteria.

Let’s take a look at the signs to narrow it down a little bit further.

Sore Throat Symptoms

A sore throat can be caused by allergens, like pollen and dust or even food, or sometimes bacterial infections. The most common culprits, however, are flu and viral infections and will not respond to course of antibiotics.

Symptoms include:

  • A swollen, scratchy throat and tonsils
  • Moderate fever
  • Earache
  • Moderate rash
  • Lump on neck (caused by swollen glands)
  • Runny nose
  • Cough or common cold
  • Congestion
  • Diifculty breathing

Home treatment is usually all that is needed and certain at-home remedies differ for adults and children. Though these same flu remedies are recommended for sore throats in adults:

  • Gargle with warm salt water (1 to 5 ratio of salt to water) to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort
  • Warm liquids, such as honey & lemon tea or a broth soup
  • Warm or cool mist using a humidifier
  • Medicated throat lozenges
  • Throat sprays containing phenol

You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever for associated body aches and pains.

If you keep having recurring sore throats, your throat is sore for longer than a week, and are dyhydrated you should see your docotr, or drop-in to a GoHealth Urgent Care nearest you for a check-up. We can likely prescribe you something to relieve the itchy cough and throat pain.

Strep Throat Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of strep throat are very similar to an ordinary sore throat, but in general strep throat has:

  • White patches on the tonsils or back of the throat
  • Just a sore throat without cough/cold symptoms like a runny nose or congestion
  • Swollen lymph nodes (right below the earlobes)
  • Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes accompanied by white patches or streaks
  • Tiny red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Headaches
  • Ear infections
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An extreme rash, known as Scarlet Fever
  • Rheumatic fever

If these symptoms last more than two days, you might have strep. Don’t panic!

Only rarely does it demand emergency attention. 

Diagnosis & Treatment for Strep Throat

Providers can perform a quick strep test to look for antigens (indicator molecules) belonging to the bacterial strain Streptococcus A.

If negative…

You’re not out of the woods yet. The rapid strep test is good, but not perfect: about 15% of people with strep throat may have a negative test result.  If your provider still suspects strep throat, he or she can conduct a throat culture.

Results may take 1-2 days to return. If you have just a sore throat, be sure to treat it either with a few home remedies or contact your local urgent care for a prescription to comfort you and get you through it.

If positive…

Sorry! You have strep throat. You will most likely be prescribed antibiotics and feel better in approximately 48 hours. However, it is important that you complete your full course as prescribed, not just stopping when your symptoms subside!

If you don't, you allow the bacteria that remain in your system to mutate and become more resistant to antibiotics.

You may also consider taking ibuprofen (such as Advil) or acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to reduce throat pain and fever symptoms.

Remember: Strep is very contagious. Don’t risk infecting your friends & family and get treated now!

What to Do if You Think Your Child Has Strep Throat

If you notice these symptoms and think your child has strep throat, because, once again, there’s no need to rush to an emergency room.

You may not need to schedule a doctor’s visit with your child’s pediatrician, either.

Strep throat is painful, and your child may have to wait hours or even days to see a primary care physician or pediatrician.

Instead, an urgent care facility is the perfect place to turn. Places like GoHealth Urgent Care frequently test and treat strep throat, especially in young children. We can also refer an ear, nose and throat specialist is something to think about, should the problem persist.

When you visit our urgent care center, there is no need to schedule an appointment and your wait time will be short (wait times are usually less than 15 minutes.)

Another tip to remember is this: strep throat is very contagious, so make sure your child stays home from school or other responsibilities after a strep diagnosis. After 24 hours of antibiotics, the infection will no longer be contagious.

Feel free to book a hassle-free appointment below using the location widget! And, as always, GoHealth Urgent Care is a walk-in clinic that does not require an appointment to see a doctor!

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