February 22, 2012

Maury Regional offers tips on how to tell a sore throat from strep

COLUMBIA, Tenn. — Few people escape the pain and discomfort of an occasional sore throat, especially during the winter months. How do you know whether that pain is the result of a cold or something more serious, such as a bacterial infection commonly referred to as strep throat?

“A sore throat is often the first sign of a cold. In the case of a cold, the sore throat will usually get better and leave in a day or two. Strep throat, however, can remain for days and has the potential of bringing with it some serious complications. With strep throat, soreness in the throat is often more severe and persistent,” said Loretta Davidson, a family nurse practitioner at Maury Regional Ambulatory Care Center. “Strep throat is caused by bacteria known as streptococcus, is extremely contagious, and can spread through droplets when a sick person sneezes or coughs. People can also become infected by touching surfaces that an infected person has already touched, such as doorknobs or bathroom objects, so a good precautionary measure is to practice good hygiene, including washing hands frequently with soap and warm water.”

What are some other signs of strep throat? 

  • Tonsils are painful and/or swollen and sometimes exhibit white patches and/or streaks of pus
  • Very small red spots may appear on the soft part of the roof of the mouth
  • Lymph nodes (glands in the neck) are swollen and tender
  • A sore throat coupled with a fever of over 101° Fahrenheit
  • A sandpaper-like rash on the neck and chest spreading to the rest of the body (less common)
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache

If any of these symptoms are present or if a sore throat remains for more than a few days, the wise thing to do is to see your doctor who can order one or more tests to determine if you have strep. A rapid antigen test can sometimes detect in 10 minutes if you have strep. If this is inconclusive, the doctor may choose to take a throat culture to be sent to a laboratory. The results of this test can be determined in a couple of days. If you have strep throat, your doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic. With a cold, no antibiotic treatment is necessary. Whether it’s strep or just a sore throat, your doctor can also offer suggestions on things you can do to lessen the discomfort.