Sore Throat Pain: Is it Viral or Strep?
When you feel an ache in your throat and have difficulty swallowing, the first thing that comes to mind is sore throat. There are two types of sore throat pain: One that is caused by a viral infection and one that is caused by a bacteria. In this article, we’ll talk about sore throat pain, the two causes of it, how to treat it, how it is tested, and if antibiotics are at all necessary.
A sore throat is an infection that makes it painful and difficult to swallow. The throat may also feel very dry and itchy. Some people may even find it difficult to speak. It can happen to anyone, regardless of age. However, it is quite rare among young children 2 years old and below.
Sore throat is considered to be a common symptom of the common cold, flu, certain allergies, and other issues that involves the upper respiratory tract. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also cause sore throat when acid reflux reaches the throat and voice box. Sore throat can be caused by a lot of things so it is important to identify the real cause to determine the proper treatment
How can you tell the difference between a viral and bacterial sore throat?
Sore throat pain (pharyngitis) is a common problem and it is usually the result of a viral or bacterial infection. If sore throat is due to strep, then it is important to get help right away at an urgent care clinic.
Viruses can cause a sore throat and other upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold. Viral sore throats are not treated with antibiotics but instead may be treated with rest, pain medication, and other therapies aimed at relieving symptoms.
Strep throat is a particular kind of pharyngitis that is caused by a bacterium known as group A streptococcus (GAS). Strep throat is treated with a course of antibiotics.
Sore throat infection symptoms
The symptoms of a sore throat may vary, depending on what is causing it.
Most people with a sore throat have a virus. Symptoms of a viral infection can include:
- A runny or congested nose
- Irritation or redness of the eyes
- Cough, hoarseness, or soreness in the roof of the mouth.
- Some viruses cause a fever
Influenza (flu) virus is a common cause of sore throat. Antiviral medication is crucial if your symptoms start within 48-72 hours.
Strep throat is not as common as viral pharyngitis. Approximately 10% of adults with a sore throat have strep throat while about 30% of children with sore throat has strep. Symptoms of strep throat include:
- Pain in the throat
- Fever (temperature greater than 100.4ºF)
- Enlarged lymph glands in the neck
- White patches of pus on the side or back of the throat
- No cough, runny nose or irritation/redness of the eyes.
Strep throat can get more serious. If you experience the following symptoms, you must seek medical care immediately:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin rash
- Drooling because you cannot swallow
- Swelling of the neck or tongue
- Stiff neck or difficulty opening the mouth
- Underlying chronic illness/medication that may impair your immune system.
Sore throat test
Looking at a patient’s throat is not enough to come to a proper diagnosis. The doctor will have to run tests to diagnose strep throat or viral pharyngitis more effectively.
Rapid strep test
A rapid strep test helps determine if there is a presence of strep-causing bacteria in the throat. The doctor will swab the back of the mouth or throat and tonsils to collect the needed sample for testing. The results will be ready within just 10 to 15 minutes after swabbing.
There is a 5% chance that the test may show negative results. Doctors may run a throat culture if they are quite doubtful about what’s causing a patient’s sore throat pain.
A throat culture is a test that also involves swabbing the tonsils and the back of the mouth. This, however, may need more time to generate reliable results. The sample will be sent to the laboratory for further testing. Results will be available after about a day or two.
When to take antibiotics for sore throat
If your sore throat pain is actually strep throat, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat it. It is crucial that you finish the course of the treatment, even if you think that your condition has improved. If not, the bacterial infection may come back.
A sore throat caused by a virus will not require antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this type will often go away on its own. It is important not to take any antibiotics as it may only make the situation worse. Their side effects may cause a rash, diarrhea, antibiotic resistant infections, and other deadlier medical conditions.
Sore throat pain relief
While waiting for sore throat to heal, there are things you can do to ease any pain or discomfort.
- Gargle with a water and salt solution. Simply stir half a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water. This can help relieve inflamed throat tissue.
- Throat lozenges or hard candy can help relieve pain.
- Throat sprays can help numb sore throat pain.
- Keep the throat warm with a warm compress. You can use a small towel soaked in hot water, a heating pad, or a hot water bottle. The warmth can help soothe swollen lymph nodes.
- Stay hydrated and drink warm water. Avoid sweet, citrusy, and alcoholic beverages at this time as these may irritate the throat even more.
Sore throat prevention
Sore throat, regardless of its cause, can be prevented. First, it is important that you stay away from people who are infected. You won’t know what type of infection they have so might as well avoid physical contact until they are better.
Wash your hands as often as possible. If you are unable to wash immediately, use an alcohol-based sanitizer. If it is also not available, avoid touching your face, rubbing your eyes, or putting your hands or fingers in your mouth.
If you are infected, there are things you can do to avoid spreading the infection to others. To keep your family members or housemates safe, separate your food and utensils. Also, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.
At Statcare Urgent Medical Care, we can diagnose your streptococcal throat infection by a rapid strep test, which takes less than 5 minutes to yield a result. We also have an in-house rapid flu test available to diagnose flu.
No appointment is necessary at our clinics and you can see a doctor or medical provider right away. You can call ahead at (917) 242-3078 and let us know you’re on the way or you can check in online.