Healthy Living

Sore Throat: Is it Viral or Bacterial? Know the Difference

Sore Throat: Is it Viral or Bacterial? Know the Difference

Key Takeaways

  • Sore throat is also called pharyngitis
  • Strep throat is a serious form of sore throat
  • A strep test can help differentiate between strep and a sore throat

The throat is prone to infections by either viral or bacterial vectors. Thus, it is very important to know the underlying cause as well as the differences in common throat conditions. Differential diagnosis is needed for an accurate treatment plan.

Sore Throat Versus Strep Throat

Sore throat or pharyngitis is a common symptom which varies in severity from scratchiness to severe pain, and is caused by inflammation of the throat or pharynx. The throat is the region behind the tonsils. Most of the time, a sore throat is an indication of influenza or the cold. It could also be a sign of strep throat.

A Sore throat can be acute or chronic. An acute sore throat occurs very suddenly while a chronic sore throat lasts for a long time. Pharyngitis happens when a mouth, sinus or respiratory infection spreads to the throat. It could also be caused by cigarette smoking, hay fever, second hand smoke, dry air, breathing polluted air, and heartburn.

Symptoms of sore throat include fever, redness of the throat, hoarseness, earache, pus in the throat, pain when swallowing or tender, swollen glands in the neck.
On the other hand, strep throat is a serious form of sore throat. Strep throat is caused by the bacteria Streptococci, particularly group A streptococcus. This condition is common in children. The infection is very contagious and it can be passed easily from person to person.

Symptoms of strep throat are nearly identical to that of a sore throat. Other symptoms may include headaches, loss of appetite, chills and fatigue.

Strepthroat

Making the Diagnosis

Normally, when a person has sore throat, the doctor will ask for the symptoms and examine the throat. The doctor will also check for signs of other conditions such as ear, sinus or chest infections. However, it may be difficult to diagnose just by looking at the throat. The doctor will not be able to determine if bacteria or a virus is the cause. To further examine the throat, a swab test is done to check for a strep infection. The sample will then be sent and tested in the laboratory. The results of the test will show if a person has contracted strep.

Difference in Treatment

Most of the time, there is no exact treatment needed if the sore throat is caused by a virus. The throat gets better even without treatment within five to seven days. Antibiotics are not given in viral infections, as they will have no effect. In contrast, when bacteria causes the condition antibiotics are given. Antibiotics must be taken for the prescribed number of days, even if symptoms have dissipated. This will help prevent future contractions of the disease. Strep throat can lead to more serious complications if left untreated.