Common Cold or Strep Throat? How to Tell the Difference

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Everyone knows the feeling: a throat so sore that the only options seem to be ripping it out or running to the doctor and demanding antibiotics — anything to make it feel better. But before treating a sore throat, it’s important to know the culprit causing it.

“Typically, sore throats are caused by either a virus, like one of the more than 200 viruses we refer to as the common cold, or by bacteria, such as the streptococcus bacteria, more commonly called strep throat,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, regional medical director of AFC Urgent Care, the largest urgent-care provider in the Commonwealth.

Since antibiotics are effective only when used to treat bacterial infections, it’s important to know the difference, he added. “Strep throat is diagnosed with a simple test in which we swab the back of your throat for a sample. We can do a rapid test in the office that provides a quick result, so we know what we’re dealing with almost immediately.”

Other signs of strep may include a fever, swollen glands in the neck, and white spots on the back of the throat. If you exhibit clear symptoms of strep, but the rapid test is negative, your doctor will send the sample to a laboratory for more in-depth evaluation.

There are several key differences between symptoms of a sore throat caused by the common cold and strep throat. While both are painful, strep is more painful. Patients often describe the pain as ‘searing.’ Strep throat is not usually accompanied by other severe cold symptoms, like a runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, and sneezing, all of which occur with the common cold. And a sore throat that occurs with the common cold typically improves after a day or two, while strep-throat pain persists.

If you suspect you have strep throat, seek treatment quickly. It can progress and cause complications. Even if you don’t think you have strep throat, you may need to see a doctor for sore throat evaluation and relief. See a doctor if you have a sore throat that lasts longer than a week, keeps coming back, causes you to lose your voice, leaves you raspy for more than two weeks, or worries you for any other reason. For sore-throat evaluation or relief, walk-in care is available at AFC Urgent Care seven days a week.

Comments are closed.