Sore throats are common during cold and flu season. They can be a side effect of a viral infection and are usually accompanied by other cold symptoms. However, when they result from a bacterial infection, they are referred to as strep throat. While the pain from sore throat and strep throat may be similar, there are key differences between the two.
Common cold (viral pharyngitis)
A sore throat is most commonly caused by a viral infection and can feel painful, scratchy and discomforting. You also may have a pain when you swallow. Viral infections are usually accompanied by other cold symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, coughing, and red or watery eyes. Smoking, allergies and irritants in the air can also cause sore throats. Usually, if have a sore throat and some of the other symptoms, is most likely from a viral cold and not strep.
A specific type of bacteria causes strep throat and spreads through contact with an infected person’s nasal mucus or saliva. Symptoms of strep throat can include severe sore throat, inflamed lymph nodes around the neck, pus in the back of the throat, pain swallowing, fever/chills, headaches, stomachaches or rashes on the chest and neck. It can be spread through sharing drinking glasses as well as by toothbrushes, kissing or proximity to a sick person who is sneezing or coughing. Strep throat can cause more serious health issues, such as rheumatic fever or kidney disease, if not properly treated.
If your sore throat lasts more two weeks or your throat feels much worse than your previous colds, you should consult a doctor for evaluation for strep throat. If it is strep, it should be treated with an antibiotic.
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