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Strep Throat Versus Sore Throat

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strep throat vs sore throat

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  • Although they both affect the same area, strep throat is different from a sore throat
  • A bacterial infection is mainly responsible for strep throat, while a sore throat can develop because of either viruses or bacteria
  • No matter what disease you have, it’s important to have yourself checked for either a sore throat or strep throat once symptoms appear

Just like strep throat, sore throat is annoying and painful. If your throat feels painful, itchy or irritated and you find it hard to swallow foods, you may already have a sore throat.1 While these illnesses seem identical, there are some key differences you should watch out for.

A sore throat’s primary symptoms include a painful (as the name implies) and itchy throat, swollen neck glands, white patches on the tonsils and swallowing difficulties.2 Strep throat, aside from these symptoms, may also come with other indicators, such as body aches, headaches, rashes and fever.3,4

Both sore and strep throat affect people of all ages, but the risk of being diagnosed is higher for children and people who share close spaces with others. However, there are other risk factors connected to sore throat such as exposure to someone with sore or strep throat, a weakened immune system, irregularly shaped or large tonsils and acid reflux.5

What Are the Main Differences Between These Two Conditions?

While a strep throat is mainly caused by a bacterial infection, there are many causes that can lead to a sore throat such as viruses, bacteria strains, environmental factors and other diseases. You can also get sore throat if you strain your muscles too much when talking or yelling.6

One of the main differences between strep and sore throat can be summed up in this statement: “Everyone who has a strep throat has a sore throat, but not everyone with a sore throat has a strep infection.”7 In addition, a bacterial infection can cause both strep throat and sore throat, but a viral infection can only lead to a sore throat and not strep throat.

Some of the bacterial infections that can cause sore throat include diphtheria,8 whooping cough9 and strep throat,10 while the following viral infections may trigger sore throat:11

  • Cold or flu virus
  • Mononucleosis
  • Measles  
  • Chickenpox
  • Croup

Environmental factors can also increase your risk for a sore throat. They include the presence of allergens and other irritants, dry air, smoking cigarettes or exposure to cigarette smoke, and even cold weather.12 There are also “rare” causes of a sore throat. It may be a symptom of a condition called a peritonsillar abscess,13 or epiglottitis.

This potentially life-threatening condition happens when a small cartilage that covers your windpipe, called the epiglottis, swells and impedes airflow.14 In some cases, however, a sore throat may be indicative of the following diseases:15

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — This occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus
  • HIV infection — Someone with an HIV infection may experience a sore throat and other flu-like symptoms. If the sore throat is recurring, this can be an indicator of a secondary infection
  • Cancerous tumors in the throat, tongue or larynx
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When Should You Have Yourself Checked for Sore or Strep Throat?

How long your sore throat lasts depends on the cause of the disease: If it was triggered by a viral infection, it may heal in five to seven days. However, a sore throat initiated by a bacterial infection can feel better in two to three days, but only if you take antibiotics.16 If you notice these symptoms appearing after a week, consult your doctor immediately:17

  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Joint pain
  • Earaches
  • Rashes
  • A fever over 101 degrees F
  • Saliva or phlegm with traces of blood
  • Throat lumps
  • Hoarseness for more than two weeks

Diagnosing sore throat involves your doctor checking your throat, ears and nose with a lighted instrument, looking for swollen lymph nodes and using a stethoscope to listen to breathing patterns. In some cases, your doctor can recommend you to undergo a throat swab to see if strep bacteria are inside your throat.18


Strep Throat: Introduction

What Is Strep Throat?

Is Strep Throat Contagious?

Strep Throat Symptoms

Strep Throat Causes

How Do You Get Strep Throat

Strep Throat Without Tonsils

Strep Throat Duration

Strep Throat vs Sore Throat

Strep Throat Treatment

Strep Throat Prevention

Strep Throat Diet

Strep Throat FAQ

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