Sore throat versus strep throat

Family medicine doctor explains characteristics to watch for

Sore throats are not only a pain, they can be caused by many different factors. Viruses, bacteria, allergies, or even runny nose drainage can cause throat pain. So how can you recognize the difference between a sore throat and strep throat?

Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Daniel Allan says that while strep can often be confused with a cold, your doctor can spot strep based on a defined set of characteristics.

"The criteria that we use, that would indicate strep would be fever, enlarged lymph nodes around the neck, sometimes they're tender. You do not have a cough with strep, if you're coughing, that typically means no strep. The other thing, is most people know, is if you look in the throat, a lot of times there is puss or exudate in the back of the throat," he explained.

Allan also says that if you've been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with strep, it is easier to diagnose, because of the contagious nature of the virus.

Strep can be spread as easily as sharing drinking glasses or even through the air by sneezing or coughing. Strep throat is commonly treated with antibiotics, however Allan warns that over-prescribing of antibiotics for sore throats that do not turn out to be strep can cause side effects or resistance to the drugs.

With that said, Allan says it is important for someone who does have strep to get proper treatment to avoid further complications.

"Most strep will self-resolve, however there is the risk of rheumatic fever if it's untreated, so I would not recommend that. If there is any concern of a strep then I would get tested," Allan advised.

He says that a person generally has nine days from the time of the onset of symptoms to get treatment to avoid the strep from causing further complications.