Sore Throat or Strep Throat? Learn How to Tell the Difference.

by | Feb 18, 2024 | Uncategorized

Experiencing pain and discomfort in your throat? Wondering if it’s just a sore throat or potentially strep throat? At Access Healthcare Multi-Specialty Group (AHMG) in Forest, VA, we’re here to provide information on the signs, symptoms, and treatment of strep throat. Learn how to distinguish between a common sore throat and strep throat and discover the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.  

Sore throats often become a common woe during winter, as colder weather pushes people indoors, fostering conditions for the common cold and, consequently, scratchy throats. But how do you discern if your sore throat warrants medical attention? 

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a more severe sore throat caused by streptococcus bacteria. Dr. Andrew Pieleck, a board-certified family medicine physician at AHMG, explains that it’s the leading cause of bacterial throat infections in children, but it can also affect adults. The infection is highly contagious and spreads through close contact or touching contaminated surfaces. It’s most common in the winter and early spring but can occur year-round. Distinguishing between a cold-related sore throat and a more severe strep throat is crucial. While a viral sore throat commonly coincides with other cold symptoms and usually resolves spontaneously, strep throat, being a bacterial infection, necessitates antibiotic treatment. 

Symptoms of Strep Throat

Recognizing strep throat involves identifying a combination of symptoms, including: 

  • Red and white patches/white spots in the throat 
  • Painful swallowing 
  • Tender or swollen lymph nodes in the neck 
  • Enlarged tonsils 
  • Headache 
  • Fever (101 degrees or more) 
  • Loss of appetite and nausea 
  • Change in voice 
  • General discomfort or uneasiness 
  • Children may also experience lower stomach pain, gagging and/or vomiting, and a red rash with small spots on the body. 

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

Distinguishing between a viral sore throat and bacterial strep throat can be challenging. Dr. Pieleck suggests that viral infections often come with additional symptoms like a runny nose, cough, and eye redness. While viral infections usually improve on their own, bacterial infections may require antibiotics. 

How is Strep Throat Diagnosed?

If you suspect strep throat, prompt testing is crucial. Dr. Pieleck advises against at-home strep tests, emphasizing potential false negatives. Prompt testing in a doctor’s office ensures accurate results. If positive, immediate antibiotic treatment can be started.  

AHMG offers rapid strep tests or throat cultures, both utilizing a soft swab to collect throat fluid or mucus. Rapid test results are available in less than 15 minutes, while cultures may take up to 48 hours. 

How is Strep Throat Treated? 

In most cases, strep throat is treated with a 10-day course of antibiotics. It is important to complete the prescribed medication, as stopping too soon may lead to lingering bacteria and a return of symptoms. Quick treatment is essential to prevent potential complications such as scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, blood infections, kidney disease, or pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS). 

Tips for Soothing Sore Throat

Whether cold-related or strep, a sore throat can be uncomfortable. Here are some ways to help alleviate the discomfort: 

  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and fever relief. 
  • Stay hydrated with water, juice, soups, or broth. 
  • Gargle with warm salt water. 
  • Use throat lozenges, hard candy, ice, or popsicles (for adults and older children). 
  • Get ample rest and use a humidifier. 


As strep is contagious, prevention becomes key. Frequent handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding shared utensils contribute to limiting the spread of infections. Maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and quality sleep fortify the immune system against infections. 


Understanding strep throat’s symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment is vital for prompt and effective care. If you suspect strep throat or need professional advice, contact Access Healthcare Multi-Specialty Group (AHMG) in Forest, VA.  

Don’t delay treatment; early intervention is key to a speedy recovery. Schedule an appointment with AHMG today and prioritize your health. 434.316.7199