A sore throat is another symptom that can go along with a cough and cold. Most sore throats are caused by viruses and do not need antibiotics. Strep throat is a particular type of throat infection that is important to treat with antibiotics. Some times it can be challenging to tell the difference between strep throat and a viral sore throat. Your symptoms, a physical exam, a rapid strep swab, or even a throat culture will help the doctor determine the cause of the sore throat. Some of the symptoms with a sore throat that may lead you to see the doctor are a sore throat that lasts throughout the day, a feer of greater than 101, enlarged tonsils, or a past history of frequent strep throat infections.
Viral sore throat infections tend to be worse in the morning and better as the day progresses. They usually do not cause a fever over 101. Viral infections of the throat are less likely to cause enlarged tonsils. Strep throat tends to hurt all day, may cause a fever, and may cause the tonsils to appear enlarges, red, and have puss. Strep throat is caused by a specific bacteria called streptococcus. This bacteria can be diagnosed with a rapid strep test. The rapid strep test is a swab of the throat. It takes about 5 minutes to get the answer and is about 90% accurate. A throat culture is a swab that is sent to the lab and takes 2-3 days to get the result. A throat culture is very accurate so if the rapid strep test is negative but your doctor is worried the test may be wrong, they may want to do the culture.
The treatment for a viral sore throat is mostly comfort measures. Tylenol or ibuprofen are good for the pain. cough drops or hard candy can be soothing as well. Warm liquids like tea can be good for the sore throat as well. Warm salt water gargles 6 times per day can be very helpful in treating a viral sore throat. As with any viral infection, lots of fluids and plenty of rest is important. Viruses are not helped by antibiotics. If it is clear the sore throat is a viral infection, antibiotics should not be taken.
Strep throat, caused by the bacteria streptococcus, needs to be treated with antibiotics. If untreated, strep throat can turn into rheumatic fever and cause rheumatic heart disease. These are serious complications and can cause long term problems. Antibiotics work very well against strep throaty. Most people will feel improvement 24 hours after starting the antibiotics and feel much better in 48 hours. It may take 5-7 days to completely recover. it is important to take the entire prescription of antibiotics and nit stop them as soon as you feel better. Even if symptoms are gone, your body is still fighting the last of the bacteria. Stopping the antibiotics early risks having a relapse that could be worse than the original infection. All of the comfort measures listed in the treatment for viral sore throat are also helpful for strep throat. Tylenol, ibuprofen warm fluids, salt water gargles, rest, and plenty of fluids all can help with strep throat.
Strep throat is contagious. It will take 48 hours after starting antibiotics until the patient is no longer contagious. That means no school or work for 2 days. Also frequent and good hand washing is very important. Physical contact between the person with strep throat and other people should be limited to keep the disease form spreading.