Do You Have a Viral Sore Throat or Strep Throat?

While you’re suffering through the pain of a sore throat, it may seem trivial to consider the source of your discomfort. After all, you’re concentrating on getting sips of water down, not the root cause of this illness.

But the type of sore throat you have impacts the type of treatment used to cure it. Read on to learn the difference between viral sore throat and strep throat and why it matters.

Viral Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat Symptoms

Sore throat symptoms are typically caused by inflammation due to a virus like the common cold. However, about 15 percent of sore throats are caused by bacteria called streptococcus, or strep. Strep throat requires treatment with an antibiotic, while viral causes of sore throat do not.

Viral Sore throat symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Hoarseness
  • Body aches
  • Mouth sores

Strep throat symptoms:

  • Sudden onset sore throat
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Fever > 100.4
  • White spots (pus) on tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Recent contact with strep

Who Typically Has Strep?

Strep throat is most common in school-age children between 5 and 15 years old.

It’s estimated that approximately 15 to 40 percent of cases of sore throat in this age group are caused by strep bacteria, and there are several million cases of this kind of strep illness in the United States each year.

How Is Strep Diagnosed?

Strep can’t be diagnosed simply by looking at your throat. To detect the presence of the bacteria, your health care provider must do a strep test with a throat swab.

The traditional test for a strep throat is a throat culture, which takes two to three days for results.

By comparison, the rapid strep test, which is available at GoHealth Urgent Care, can produce results within minutes.

Prognosis with Strep

If you’ve been diagnosed with strep throat, your health care provider will prescribe antibiotics, which must be taken according to the instructions.

To prevent the spread of infection, people with strep should stay home from work, school, or daycare until their fever is gone or until they’ve been on antibiotics for 24 hours.

It is also important not to share food or drinks with others or prepare food for others and to wash your hands frequently.

Once you’ve started taking antibiotics for strep throat, you’ll begin feeling better in a day or two. If you don’t feel better after 48 hours, call your healthcare provider.


Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat. Five Things to Know.

Signs 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 or the inflammation of your voice box (laryngitis) caused by viral infection or a bacterial infection. Let’s review the differences and when you need to take action and seek medical care.


Question:   Sore throat? Swollen larynx? Losing your voice?

Losing your voice is usually a sign of laryngitis, which is most often caused by a virus and not that serious. However, it can be a nuisance, and if the condition lasts longer than one week, or is accompanied by fever, difficulty swallowing or breathing, then visit your doctor or your local urgent care to determine the cause and begin treatment.


Question:   What are some of the causes of a sore throat?

A sore throat can be caused by allergens like pollen, dust and food, or sometimes bacterial infections. The most common culprits, however, are flu and viral infections, which don’t respond to antibiotics.


Question:   When is a sore throat leading to something more serious?

Signs and symptoms of a sore throat can just as easily be the beginnings of something more serious, like strep. Some of the signs include swollen, scratchy throat and tonsils, moderate fever, headache, swollen glands (neck), and mild rash.


Question:   What home remedies can help a sore throat?

Reduce swelling and relieve discomfort by gargling with warm salt water (1 to 5 salt-to-water ratio). Sip warm liquids such as honey and lemon tea, or a broth soup. Create a warm or cool mist by turning on a humidifier. Soothe yourself with a few medicated throat lozenges to ease pain and lubricate the glands. If nothing else, use a throat spray with phenol.


Question:   What are some symptoms of strep throat?

Signs and symptoms of strep throat can be very similar to a sore throat with a few distinct differences:white patches on the tonsils or back of the throat, mild fever, swollen lymph nodes (just below the ear lobes), tiny red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth, headache, earache, or just a sore throat without cough/cold symptoms like runny nose or congestion.


Question:   Why does strep throat warrant a visit to your doctor or urgent care?

Sometimes, strep throat will go away all by itself. Antibiotics can reduce the duration of symptoms by about a day; however, they really don’t help the throat much more than an over-the-counter medication. But strep throat is contagious and often treated with antibiotics to prevent any worrisome complications like rheumatic fever, which can damage valves in the heart.