Strep Throat or Sore Throat? Here’s How to Tell

This time of year, colds and fevers are common, and under normal circumstances should be no cause for concern. Bugs pass easily between family members — especially if you have school-aged children — and towns and cities become rife with illness as people struggle to come in to work despite their illnesses.

If you’re feeling a cough or sore throat coming on, the best thing you can do is stay home and rest up. There’s no need to clog up a doctor’s office and expose yourself to more potential bugs just to get a doctor’s note. However, if you’re worried that your sore throat is actually strep throat, you should get checked out.

To save you a trip to the doctor’s office, here are some common ways that a sore throat is different from strep throat.

What is a sore throat?

A sore throat is any kind of uncomfortable feeling in the throat that’s most likely caused by a viral infection, or by factors determined by the environment around you, like smoky or dry air.

If you’re diagnosed with a simple sore throat, you’re probably being affected in one of three parts of your throat. Pharyngitis is the inflammation of the area behind the mouth, tonsillitis is inflammation and irritation of the tonsils, and laryngitis is swelling and redness around the voice box. If you’re having a hard time speaking, you probably have laryngitis.

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What is strep throat?

Strep throat, more formally known as streptococcal pharyngitis, is an infection of the back of the throat, including the tonsils, which is caused by a strain of Group A streptococcus. If you start exhibiting symptoms of strep throat, chances are you were exposed to the bacteria anywhere between one to three days ago. The infection usually lasts anywhere between seven to 10 days.

Strep throat is easily spread by either skin or mucus contact. Strep throats are extremely common- they’re responsible for 15-40 percent of sore throats among children, and 5-15 percent of sore throats among adults.

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