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Q: What’s the difference between strep throat and a sore throat?

Most sore throats in kids are caused by viruses, but about 30 percent are caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus, or strep. In addition to the usual scratchy, red, sore throat, there are certain symptoms that are common in strep throat, like white spots in the throat, swollen tonsils, red spots on the roof of the mouth, and fever. With strep, the sore throat is also often more severe, and begins suddenly.

You can’t diagnose strep throat by looking at it, so your family’s doctor will need to do a throat culture to be sure. If it turns out to be strep, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. Even if your symptoms go away after you start taking the antibiotics, it’s important to finish all the medication, or the strep might come back.

While strep is usually thought of as a childhood illness, it can affect people of all ages. Strep is very contagious. It spreads through tiny droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can help prevent it from spreading by staying home from work or school, washing hands frequently, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. If you think you may have strep throat, make an appointment right away with your primary care physician. If he/she feels you need more specific/specialized medical care or consultation, they may refer you to an ENT, or Ear Nose and Throat doctor.

David Crow, MD
Otolaryngologist