Healthy Living

Why Is My Throat Sore?

Jan. 18, 2024
Find Out if That Little Scratch is as Serious as Strep Throat, or as Simple as Allergies.

A sore throat in the mornings can go hand in hand with winter weather and dry air. But how can you tell when a sore throat is just a symptom of a cold or allergies, and when it may be something more serious?

UR Medicine nurse practitioner and infectious disease expert Kelly Farrow breaks down the key signs and symptoms of strep throat.

How can I tell if my sore throat is just allergies or a cold?

If a sore throat is caused by allergies or a mild cold, you’ll usually be able to go on with your day without too much difficulty. If you’re not experiencing fever or fatigue in addition to the sore throat, then it is likely due to something non-infectious like allergies. Sometimes mild colds can also start with a sore throat and few or no other symptoms.

How can I tell if my sore throat is a sign of strep throat?

Unlike with a mild cold or allergies, if you have strep throat, you will likely feel very ill. In addition to a very sore throat that hurts more when swallowing, you will experience extreme fatigue and fever. You may also have swollen lymph nodes in the neck. To get an accurate diagnosis, it’s important to connect with a health care provider.

How is strep throat treated?

If you think you have strep throat, contact your UR Medicine provider. While it is possible for cases to resolve on their own in 3-5 days, your provider will likely prescribe antibiotics, like penicillin.

Antibiotics can shorten the duration of illness by making the symptoms less severe, help you recover quicker, and prevent the spread to others. Learn more about staying healthy and safe while taking antibiotics.

Is there an at-home treatment for strep?

Only antibiotics can definitively cure strep throat and shorten the time that you’re contagious. But several at-home remedies can help relieve your symptoms, including:

● Drinking plenty of fluids, such as broth, hot tea, soup, or water with lemon

● Gargling several times a day with warm salt water

● Sucking on lozenges or cough drops

● Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)

● Using a steam humidifier or sitting in a hot bath

What causes strep throat?

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection, called group A streptococcus. The infection causes pharyngitis, inflammation at the back of the throat. But that inflammation, pharyngitis, is most frequently caused by respiratory viruses, not group A strep (which causes only about 10% of cases of sore throat). Strep throat is more common in children and very young adults than it is in adults.

Is strep throat contagious?

Yes. However, it’s less contagious than other common illnesses, such as COVID-19 or the flu. It’s most commonly spread through particle droplets between close contacts, meaning family members, intimate partners, or young kids sharing toys.

Can you get strep throat without tonsils?

Yes. Because strep throat affects the lining of the throat, even those who have had their tonsils removed can still get it.

If you’re not feeling well, UR Medicine offers on-demand video visits that will let you speak with a provider from the comfort of your home. If you’re having symptoms that indicate something serious, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, visit an urgent care center near you.