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

4 minute read

By Editorial Staff

This time of year, sore throats, colds and fevers are common, and under normal circumstances should be no cause for concern. Fortunately, you can learn about the differences between a simple sore throat and strep throat with an online search.

Bugs pass easily between family members — especially if you have school-aged children. It can be hard to know what you’re dealing with though. Luckily, there are similarities and differences that distinguish the most common bugs from one another.

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

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

If you’ve got 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.

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. The infection usually lasts anywhere between seven to 10 days.

Strep throat is easily spread by either skin or mucus contact, and are extremely common- they’re responsible for 30 percent of sore throats among children, and 10 percent of sore throats among adults.

Common Symptoms

It’s important to differentiate between these two illnesses because strep throat requires much more care and medication than the common sore throat. The first sign that your sore throat is more than a simple irritation is that a whole host of other symptoms come along with strep throat.

If you have strep, your throat will be very tender, and you’ll also have a fever of at least 100°F. Many people with strep throat also have very tender lymph nodes, which you can test by pressing the area under your jaw. You may experience nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and headaches as well.


Another major way that strep throat differs from a more common sore throat is that there’s often an associated rash that comes along with strep throat. If you open your mouth, and the palate at the top of your mouth is red and stippled, you probably have strep.

In rare cases, the development of a rough rash along the arms and on the tongue means that you’ve contracted scarlet fever, a disease that’s caused by the same Group A streptococcus bacteria as strep throat. If you think you may have scarlet fever, consult a doctor right away, as there are some major long-term complications, like kidney disease and arthritis, that can present in rare cases.

Further Infections

If you’re diagnosed with strep throat, it’s possible that the bacterial infection will spread from your throat to other areas of your body. Most commonly, strep throat can lead to tonsillitis, or an infection of the sinuses — both are painful conditions that will prolong your illness. In some cases, infections of the skin, blood, and middle ear can develop as a result of strep throat.

In rare cases, children who develop a strep infection can develop an extremely rare condition called pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with group A streptococci (PANDAS). This disease affects children who already have neuropsychiatric disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it makes their symptoms worse when they have a strep infection. It can also cause these neuropsychiatric illnesses to appear in children who were otherwise healthy before their bout of strep.

Researchers still aren’t sure of the magnitude of this condition, but it’s worth searching more online to stay up to date with the research, especially if you’re a parent.

Treatment For These Conditions

If you’re diagnosed with strep throat by your doctor, they’ll likely give you a form of penicillin. While it will still take a few days to heal even with the antibiotics, taking medication will make you less contagious. It’s possible that if you’re an otherwise healthy adult, you’ll be sent home to heal on your own, with directions to stay away from others until you’re less contagious.

There are several things that you can do to make your sore throat feel more comfortable. Drinking lots of warm liquids, including herbal teas, will help soothe an irritated throat. You can also mix up a saltwater gargle, using a ½ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water. If your sore throat is really painful, you can buy a throat spray that contains a topical pain reliever like benzocaine, which will help numb your throat. You can find other at-home remedies that will help soothe your throat with an online search.

Start a Search For Relief

If you’re unsure about whether your sore throat is something more, search online to find out information and make an appointment to see your doctor for a diagnosis. In most cases, there’s not much to worry about – with a little care and medication, you’ll be on the mend.

Editorial Staff