A sore throat is often caused by the common cold, which can be a mild condition that resolves on its own without the need for medical treatment. However, there are also other causes of sore throats, such as strep throat and infectious mononucleosis or mono, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Both of these conditions can lead to serious consequences if left untreated.
Strep Throat vs. Mono
Strep throat is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus. This bacterial infection causes throat pain and inflammation. Strep throat can affect people of all ages, but children ages 5-15 years old are often more prone to developing this infection. This bacterial infection can also easily spread from person-to-person when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing throat secretions into the air.
Mono, on the other hand, is not easily spread since it takes around 4-6 weeks for the signs and symptoms to develop after viral exposure. Mono is short for infectious mononucleosis, which is also commonly called as kissing disease because its transmission often occurs through saliva. However, the infection can also be passed from one person to another through coughing, sneezing, or sharing of utensils with a person infected with mono. It is a common condition seen in young adults ages 15-35. People also get mono once in their lifetime.
Symptoms of Strep Throat
The severity and symptoms of strep throat may vary from one individual to another. The symptoms may range from a mild sore throat to fever and difficulty swallowing. The following symptoms of strep throat usually develop within five days of exposure to bacteria:
- High fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
- A sore throat with white patches
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Symptoms of Mono
The incubation of the Epstein-Barr virus is the time between contracting the infection and when people start to have symptoms, which can last for 4-6 weeks. Below are the signs and symptoms of mono, which may last for 1-2 months:
- A sore throat
- Swollen tonsils
- Swollen lymph glands in the armpits and neck
- Muscle weakness
- Night sweats
- Swelling of the liver or spleen
Mono can be difficult to distinguish from other viruses such as the flu. See a doctor if your symptoms still persist after home treatment for two weeks.
Diagnosing Strep Throat and Mono
If patients complain of a persistent sore throat, healthcare providers will physically examine their throat and look for any signs of inflammation or infection. Doctors may also inspect the neck for any swollen lymph nodes along with getting the medical history of the patient.
A rapid strep test may be done in the doctor's office if strep throat is suspected. This test can help identify if the cause of strep throat is a strep infection or other types of germs. The result of this test is usually available within five minutes. The doctor can also collect a throat swab sample and send it to the laboratory to further identify the causative agent of the infection. The result will be available after a few days unlike the rapid strep test, which has faster results.
When it comes to diagnosing mono, the following tests are done to rule out other possibilities:
During the doctor's visit, patients will be asked about how long they have had their symptoms. Individuals who belong to the age bracket of 15-25 might be asked if they have been in contact with other people with mono. One of the main factors for a mono diagnosis is the patient's age as well as other symptoms, such as a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and fever.
A physical examination also involves taking the body temperature along with checking the glands in the armpits, neck, and groin. The stomach or spleen might also be checked for any signs of enlargement.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
The doctor may also request for a complete blood count to help determine the severity of the patient's illness. Mono usually indicates a high lymphocyte count in the CBC.
White Blood Cell (WBC) Count
When the body tries to fight off an infection, more white blood cells are usually produced. Although a high WBC count cannot entirely confirm an EBV infection, such result often suggests a strong possibility.
The Monospot Test
The monospot test is a rapid test for mono caused by EBV. It is a blood test that looks for the presence of antibodies that are produced by the immune system in response to harmful elements. Although it does not look for antibodies against EBV, it determines the levels of antibodies that are produced by the body when a person has mono. These antibodies are called heterophile antibodies. The results of this test are often available after within an hour.
EBV Antibody Test
Doctors usually order an EBV antibody test if the patient's monospot test comes back negative. In this test, blood is collected and test for the presence of antibodies against EBV. Although the results of this test take longer to be released, it can detect mono as early as the first week of infection.
Treating Strep Throat and Mono
A person with strep throat usually needs antibiotic for treatment. Antibiotics can stop the progress of infection and spread of bacteria. The most common antibiotics for strep throat infections are amoxicillin and penicillin. It is also important to finish the course of antibiotic treatment to completely get rid of the infection. A relapse can happen when patients stop taking their antibiotics the moment they feel relieved of the symptoms.
Infectious mononucleosis has no specific treatment, but doctors may prescribe corticosteroids to help reduce the inflammation and swelling of the throat. The symptoms of mono often resolve on their own within 1-2 months.
Aside from corticosteroids treatment often focuses on relieving the symptoms. Treatment may include over-the-counter medications like fever reducers and home remedies to relieve a sore throat, such as using salt water for gargling.
The following are other home remedies that may help relieve the symptoms:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Hydration by drinking water
- Consuming a warm chicken soup
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Seek immediate medical help if you develop severe abdominal pain along with worsening symptoms.
The common cold is often the culprit of sore throats. However, when the symptoms include high fever, swollen neck glands, enlarged tonsils, and trouble swallowing, it can be due to other conditions. If you experience a sore throat along with other severe symptoms, see a doctor to rule out strep throat or mono.