Sore throats are very common and can be caused by things like viruses, bacteria, allergens, postnasal drip, or even smoke. Sore throats usually resolve on their own or with minor treatment like cough drops.
However, sometimes a sore throat can signal a more serious illness. Strep throat is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria. This bacteria travels via droplets, which means you can become infected through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person; by sharing plates, utensils, or drinks; and also from touching something that has the droplets on it.
It is important to get treatment for strep throat promptly because it can infect other tissues and lead to more serious problems. Untreated strep throat can even lead to rheumatic fever, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects the heart valves.
Knowing the difference between a sore throat and strep throat will help you decide whether you should seek treatment.
These are some common signs of strep throat:
- A sudden onset sore throat that causes pain when swallowing
- A fever
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
- Red/swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or pus
- Small red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
These are NOT usually signs of strep throat:
- Runny nose
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Your doctor can quickly diagnose strep with a painless throat swab. Strep is easily treated with antibiotics.