Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

A woman at a doctor’s office gets her throat swabbed for testing by a masked doctor.


Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat: What’s the Difference?

Sore throats affect millions of people each year. In fact, they are a symptom of various viruses and infections ranging from the common cold to COVID-19.

Among throat pain complaints and diagnoses, strep throat is one of the most common throat-related illnesses among children between 5 and 10 years old. It is so common that nearly 20% of school-aged children may carry the virus without knowing it or showing symptoms.

Even asymptomatic people can spread the virus from one person to another through tiny respiratory droplets in the air, so it’s important to understand the difference between a regular sore throat vs. strep throat to get the testing and treatment you need sooner and avoid spreading it to others.

If you or a loved one are experiencing sore throat pain, we encourage you to get tested today to rule out a strep throat diagnosis.

Let’s dive deeper into understanding the difference between sore throat vs. strep throat. 

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

A sore throat is an umbrella term used to describe pain in the throat.

Sore throats are often caused by viral infections such as colds or the flu. Allergies, inflammation, or an underlying health condition can also cause them.

Strep throat is a type of sore throat caused by a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils. Group A Streptococcus is the bacterial cause of strep throat and is often referred to as “group A strep” for short. This group of bacteria lives in the nose and throat and quickly spreads between people through semi-close contact.

Both sore and strep throats can be spread from person to person by tiny respiratory droplets in the air from things like talking, coughing, or sneezing. The only type of sore throat that is not contagious are those caused by allergies or irritants.

Most sore throats heal on their own with adequate rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and inflammation.

Strep throat does not heal on its own. Therefore, it must be treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin. It is essential to know that only those with active symptoms require antibiotic treatment. Asymptomatic patients do not require medical treatment.

Comparing Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat Symptoms

Symptoms of a strep infection typically have a more rapid onset than a standard sore throat. Strep throat pain and symptoms are generally more severe than a sore throat.

Sore throat symptoms include

  • Throat pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Runny Nose
  • Oral ulcers

Symptoms of strep throat include

  • Sore throat
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • Fever
  • White patches or streaks of pus on the back of the mouth or tonsils
  • Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Other symptoms, especially in children, may include

  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Scarlet fever

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat Diagnosis

A sore throat can be diagnosed by symptom review and a quick throat check. No laboratory testing is required to confirm the diagnosis.

A throat swab is used to test for strep throat. It uses a culture of the bacteria in the throat and tonsils to confirm the presence of strep A bacteria.

Rapid Strep Throat Testing at State Urgent Care

You shouldn’t have to live with a lingering or painful sore throat.

If you or a loved one are experiencing a sore throat or any cold, flu, or fever symptoms, we are here to help.

Our compassionate and experienced team at State Urgent Care is available seven days a week with no appointments necessary.

Walk in to get the diagnosis and personalized treatment you need to start feeling better now.