Homage | Strep Throat vs Sore Throat

Do I Have Viral Sore Throat or Strep Throat?

Strep throat is often mistaken for viral sore throat but how can you tell them apart? Learn about the differences and how to treat it in this article.

by Calvyn Ee

What is Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that affects the throat and tonsils (lymph nodes in the back of your mouth). Its main cause of strep throat is bacteria called group A Streptococcus, or group A strep (with more than 120 strains of the bacteria). Strep throat causes inflammation of your tonsils, which also affects surrounding parts of your throat.

sick woman with cough throat infection

Common symptoms include:

  • Sore throat that develops suddenly
  • Rapid onset of fever
  • Discomfort or pain when swallowing or talking
  • Reddish and/or swollen lymph nodes
  • Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Visible white/yellow patches on the back of the throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Strep throat is very common in children between the ages of 5 to 15, but it can also affect adults and senior citizens. Some people may not have any symptoms indicating they have strep throat, which does complicate its immediate diagnosis and treatment.

What’s Often Mistaken for Strep Throat?

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection while sore throats and other conditions are viral infections. Because strep throat shares symptoms with other conditions that affect the throat, it’s easy to mistake strep throat for any one of the following conditions. 

Common Cold

The common cold is an illness that affects your nose and throat, with symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, coughing, and sneezing. Strep throat may cause discomfort or pain in the throat, but it usually occurs without causing a bad cough. The lack of any infrequent coughing is generally regarded as a sign that someone has strep throat, but a medical check-up will provide a more accurate assessment.

A more accurate indicator of strep throat is the presence of white/yellow marks in the back of the throat, as well as small reddish spots on the roof of the mouth. The common cold doesn’t cause either of these to form.

Additionally, the common cold usually goes away on its own after a few days of rest, while strep throat will persist. In serious cases, strep throat can cause more harmful effects such as rheumatic fever.


Currently, there is no evidence to show that COVID-19 sore throat is any different from a regular one. You’ll still experience the general symptoms such as a dry, scratchy throat, but symptoms may change as your condition worsens. As a result, you may also experience persistent coughing, more pain in your throat, or even shortness of breath.

Long COVID, which affects people who recovered from COVID-19, may cause symptoms to last for much longer than normal, especially the persistent cough. Symptoms do vary from person to person, as some persons with COVID-19 recover faster than others. It’s still likely that strep throat can occur, but may not cause any coughing or runny nose. Getting an accurate diagnosis will be key to your treatment.

Differentiating it from COVID-19 sore throat will be the same as with the common cold: doctors will look out for white/yellow marks in the back of the throat and/or small reddish spots on the roof of the mouth. They’ll still need to be aware of your other symptoms that might cause some confusion to their diagnosis, especially if they worsen or wane over time. Other symptoms they may look out for include tender or swollen lymph nodes, scarlet fever, and body rashes.


It may interest you to know that strep throat is considered a type of tonsillitis. Tonsillitis is a “painful inflammation or infection of the tonsils” that may also be caused by the group A strep bacteria or from viral infections. It shares a number of similarities to strep throat, including the presence of white/yellow patches on the tonsils, swollen tonsils, and difficulty swallowing or talking. On top of that, tonsillitis is also infectious.

To find out if it is either tonsillitis or strep throat, a doctor will perform a throat swab to take a sample, followed by a rapid strep test (or a throat culture) to determine whether it’s strep or otherwise. With treatment, strep throat will usually go away in time, but more severe cases of tonsillitis may require a tonsillectomy to surgically remove your tonsils. This procedure is usually not advised unless absolutely necessary.

Oral Gonorrhoea

Oral gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted disease (STF) that occurs due to oral sex or kissing. It can cause a number of complications, including typical gonorrhoea symptoms such as pain while urinating or during sexual intercourse. While it’s a serious condition, oral gonorrhoea rarely causes symptoms and is difficult to diagnose properly, making it hard to get immediate treatment.

Commonalities with strep throat include redness in the back of the throat, difficulty swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes. Both also can cause serious complications if left untreated. Oral gonorrhoea can even spread via the bloodstream and reach other parts of the body, leading to severe health issues.

Strep throat will go away with prompt, consistent treatment, while oral gonorrhoea requires a follow-up check within 7 to 14 days after treatment to confirm that it’s been cured. This is exacerbated by a concerning number of cases involving antibiotic resistance.

Is Strep Throat Contagious?

Yes, strep throat can spread to others. This can happen either due to respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking, or even when sharing food and drinks with other people. Given that some people with strep throat may not exhibit any symptoms at all, you or your loved ones could be infected without realising it.

The best way to prevent it from spreading is to wear a face mask at all times, whether or not you’re feeling sick. Make sure to maintain social distancing as well, as groups of people can spread it much more easily than from person to person.

Diagnosing Strep Throat

Doctors will perform a physical exam first to spot physical signs of strep throat, such as the presence of white/yellow marks in the back of the throat. They’ll then take a sample via a throat swab, which they will then use either in a rapid strep test or send it to the laboratory for a throat culture test. The throat swab itself is a quick and painless procedure, though some people may experience some discomfort from it.

The rapid strep test is the fastest way to test for strep throat. It takes about 20 minutes for the results to display and test for the presence of the Streptococcus bacteria; if the test is positive, then you have strep throat. The test isn’t always accurate, however, so a doctor may order a throat culture to confirm the results.

The throat culture takes longer to process (usually between one to two days), but results are more accurate as it picks up bacteria that the rapid strep test might have missed.

If you have strep throat but have no symptoms, you may be a strep carrier instead. Strep carriers don’t spread strep throat to others, but if you get a viral sore throat, a rapid strep test may turn out positive. This can make an accurate diagnosis tricky, but a throat culture will get a more accurate result.

Treating Strep Throat

Once the diagnosis confirms that it’s strep throat, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat it. Antibiotics help reduce the severity of the symptoms you or your loved one experiences if taken within 48 hours of its onset. You may either be prescribed oral antibiotics or given an antibiotic shot. Once starting treatment, you or your loved one should start to feel better within a day or two. If you or your loved one’s condition doesn’t change much in 2 days, consult your doctor immediately.

Make sure to finish all of the prescriptions you’ve received, even when you feel better. This is because stopping it early can cause further complications or recurrences in the near future. Antibiotic resistance can occur, where harmful bacteria become immune to the effects of antibiotics.

Useful Home Remedies

Antibiotics provide almost immediate relief in treating strep throat, but you can also supplement your treatment with a number of beneficial home remedies that you can try.

Get Lots of Rest

It might seem obvious, but getting sufficient rest greatly helps your body to fight off the infection. Get at least 8 hours of sleep in a day and take power naps in between waking hours whenever you feel tired.

Stay Hydrated

Make sure to drink plenty of water to fend off dehydration and keep your throat moist; a dry throat can be a constant source of irritation. Drink slowly so you don’t choke due to the difficulty you may have when swallowing.

Have Refreshing Food & Drink

Treat yourself to some refreshing food and drinks to help out with your sore throat. It can be a soothing cup of tea, a glass of cool, revitalising fruit juice, or even a popsicle fresh from the fridge. Other suggestions include:

  • Warm soups or broths
  • Yoghurts
  • Smoothies
  • Herbal teas
  • Mashed potatoes

It’s also a good idea to have foods that are easy to swallow.

Raw Honey

Honey has antibacterial properties that help with soothing inflammation and sore throat. Add 1-2 tablespoons to a glass of warm water or tea to add some much needed relief and a little extra sweetness to make your day. However, if your child is 1 year old or younger, don’t give them any honey as a health precaution.

Salt Water

You should gargle with warm salt water (a quarter teaspoon of salt will be enough) to ease the discomfort and swelling from strep throat. Take one small sip, lift your head back, and then gargle the mixture for a short while before spitting it out.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is great in providing relief to your sore throat and other symptoms, as well as speeding up your recovery. You can get your daily intake of vitamin C from supplements, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and strawberries, among other things.

Stop Smoking

Smoking easily irritates the airways and causes numerous health complications, so it’s best to quit early so your strep throat is treated quickly. You should also avoid other irritants such as strong perfumes, cleaning products, and industrial fumes.

Essential Oils

Some essential oils are said to have antibacterial and antioxidant properties that help with your recovery. Make sure to use them only with an oil diffuser or humidifier. Speaking of which, a humidifier is also beneficial as it moistens the air and relieves the discomfort you might feel from strep throat.

Preventing Strep Throat


The best and easiest way to keep strep throat at bay is maintaining good hygiene. You should ideally put these tips into practice:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before and after meals, as well as after coughing or sneezing; make sure to wash them for 20 seconds with soap and water
  • Use hand sanitiser if you don’t have access to soap and water
  • If you have to cough or sneeze, make sure to cover your mouth with a tissue or disposable face mask
  • Otherwise, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow and not onto your hands
  • If you use reusable face masks, make sure to wash them often after every use
  • Immediately dispose of any tissue or disposable face masks in a rubbish bin
  • Avoid sharing utensils, cups, plates, and other items with a person who might be sick
  • Wash all utensils, cups, plates, and other items thoroughly with liquid detergent or hot, soapy water

Maintaining good hygiene is always a guaranteed way to prevent yourself from falling ill.

About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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