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Difference Between Sore Throat and Strep Throat

Sore throat and strep throat are terms used interchangeably. However, they are different conditions with variable causes and consequences. 

A sore throat is a common symptom described by scratchiness, discomfort, and pain in the throat. It can be caused by viral infections, such as the common cold or flu, or environmental factors like dry air or irritants. Sore throats can come from bacterial infections, such as those causing strep throat

A strep throat refers to a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat symptoms often include a severe and sudden sore throat, red and swollen tonsils, difficulty swallowing as well as fever. Unlike a typical sore throat, strep throat requires specific antibiotic treatment to prevent potential complications like rheumatic fever

While a sore throat may resolve on its own, proper diagnosis is important to differentiate between a common viral sore throat and serious strep throat that may need medical intervention.

What is a Sore Throat?


A sore throat is when the throat feels painful, and this can be due to a number of reasons.

Causes and prevalence:

There are many causes for a sore throat. You may be allergic to something in the environment. These allergens may irritate your respiratory passages including your throat. There are also bacteria and viruses that can result in a painful throat. You may also have tonsillitis which spreads to the throat. People of all ages get a sore throat.

Symptoms and complications:

Symptoms include a painful throat. Depending on the cause of the sore throat, the person may also have a fever, cough, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, or watery eyes. Complications depend on why you have a sore throat. A person with the flu, may develop bronchitis or pneumonia, while a person with strep throat could end up with rheumatic fever. 


Diagnosis is by a physical exam and noting the symptoms. In cases, where the patient has other signs like drooling, further tests may be needed to check for more dangerous problems like epiglottitis.


The treatment depends on the cause of your sore throat. Lozenges and pain medicines may be given to help soothe a painful throat. Antibiotics will only be given if the person is proven to have a bacterial infection. If the tonsils are inflamed, then these may be surgically removed.

What is Strep Throat?


This is when a person has a sore and inflamed throat due to infection with Streptococcus bacteria.

Causes and prevalence:

Streptococcus pyogenes, also called group A strep, is the cause of strep throat. Strep throat is more common in children than adults, and it is most often seen during winter.

Symptoms and complications:

The signs of strep throat include a very painful throat, chills and fever, swollen lymph nodes, and maybe a headache. The tonsils are red and swollen and there are likely to be whitish patches seen on the throat. In some people, the stomach may also be sore and there may be a rash that forms on the neck, extending to the chest. 


The symptoms can lead a doctor to think you have strep throat. A throat swab is taken and tested for the presence of the strep bacteria. The test for bacteria may be by PCR or using a rapid antigen test.


Strep throat is treated with antibiotics like amoxicillin or penicillin. Pain killers like ibuprofen can be given. 

Difference between Sore Throat and Strep Throat?


A sore throat is a throat that is painful. Strep throat is a throat that is painful because of infection with strep bacteria.


A sore throat can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or even, allergies. A strep throat is caused by infection with group A Streptococcus bacteria.


Depending on the cause, a sore throat can be contagious. Strep throat is always a contagious condition.


Anybody of any age can get a sore throat. A strep throat is most common in children.


Treatment of a sore throat varies depending on the cause. Treatment of a sore throat is always by using antibiotics.


Complications of a sore throat include rheumatic fever, sinus problems, and abscesses. Complications of a strep throat include glomerulonephritis, scarlet fever, and rheumatic fever.

Table comparing Sore Throat and Strep Throat

Summary of Sore Throat Vs. Strep Throat

  • A sore throat can be due to many reasons.
  • A strep throat is when strep bacteria infect the throat.
  • Treatment varies if you have a sore throat, while antibiotics are the way to get rid of a strep throat.


How do you know if you have strep throat or just a sore throat?

Only a doctor can correctly diagnose your problem but a strep throat will be reddish in color with white patches.

Can a sore throat look like strep but not be?

Yes, it is easy to think a sore throat is strep when it is not.

Will strep throat go away on its own?

Yes, strep throat often goes away within a week even if you use antibiotics. Check with your doctor if you are worried.

When do you need antibiotics for a sore throat?

Antibiotics are given when bacteria are the reason for your sore throat.

How do you rule out strep throat?

A throat swab and test can determine if you have strep throat.

How do I check myself for strep throat?

You may have the symptoms and can buy a test kit to use at home. However, only a doctor can say for sure if you have strep throat.

What are 4 symptoms of strep throat?

A person has a very sore throat and pain on swallowing, fever, red swollen tonsils and white patches on the back of the throat.

How do I know if my sore throat is viral or bacterial?

A sore throat caused by a virus usually includes a cough and other signs of a cold like a runny nose. A sore throat due to bacteria comes with a fever and can make you feel sick to your stomach.

What are the red flags for a sore throat?

You should see a doctor if you spike a fever of 103oF and higher, have a sore throat that does not improve after a week, have a red rash, or if you cough up blood.

What does the beginning of strep throat feel like?

You will have pain when swallowing and develop a fever.

Can you have strep without a fever?

Some people do not develop a fever and may not show active signs of having strep throat. They are, however, still contagious.

Can you recover from strep without antibiotics?

Yes, it is possible to recover from strep without taking antibiotics. Check with a doctor if you have concerns.

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References :

[0]Fried, Marvin P. “Sore throat”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2023, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/approach-to-the-patient-with-nasal-and-pharyngeal-symptoms/sore-throat

[1]Mayo Clinic. “Sore throat”. Mayo Clinic, 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sore-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20351635

[2]Mayo Clinic. “Strep throat”. Mayo Clinic, 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20350338

[3]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MADesKD5BEI-woman-suffering-from-sore-throat/

[4]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAD5JUIr1pg-conceptual-hand-written-text-showing-strep-throat/

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