Is Your Sore Throat Strep?

Woman with a sore throat
Woman with a sore throat. Fuse/Getty Images

Question: Is Your Sore Throat Strep?

Strep throat is an infection caused by group A streptococcus. It can be difficult to tell if your sore throat is strep or simply a cold virus. However, in most cases of strep throat there are some key differences.


Symptoms of Strep throat include:

  • sore throat (sometimes this can be extremely painful)
  • red swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches on them
  • fever (usually over 101 degrees)
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • sand-paper like rash
  • headache
  • nausea or vomiting (rare)
  • tiny red spots (petichiae) on the roof of the mouth

Unfortunately, many other conditions may cause some of these same symptoms including the common cold virus, mononucleosis and even allergies. The only way to know for sure if your sore throat is strep is to have a rapid strep test or a throat culture. These tests must be performed at a physician's office (or other medical facility) and involve swabbing the back of the throat with a very long Q-tip. Occasionally a rapid strep test will come back negative but the throat culture will come back positive, for this reason both tests are always performed.

Characteristics of strep throat include a severe sore throat that may cause pain or difficulty swallowing. You probably won't feel like eating or drinking much. The back of the throat is usually very red and there may be white patches in the back of the throat or on the tonsils.

The tonsils and lymph nodes also may be swollen. Some people get a fever. It is not uncommon to be very tired and achy or to lose your appetite. In some cases you may get a rash which feels rough like sandpaper and covers the trunk of your body. Strep throat is most common in individuals between the ages of 5-15 years old, but may occur in people of all ages.

The biggest difference between strep throat and a cold virus is that strep throat usually does not cause runny nose, congestion, sneezing or coughing.

All cases of strep throat must be treated with an antibiotic to avoid serious complications including heart problems, kidney problems or Scarlett fever -- especially in children. For these reasons, it is very important to see the doctor if you suspect you or your child have symptoms of strep throat. Most people feel better within 24-48 hours of starting an appropriate antibiotic. Contact your doctor if your symptoms have not improved after 48 hours.


CDC. Is It Strep Throat?. Accessed: May 14, 2016 from

Medline Plus. Strep Throat. Accessed: October 2, 2009 from

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