John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
A sore throat is a discomfort or pain in the throat area, which is typically
worsened by swallowing. The underlying cause of a sore throat is most frequently
due to an infectious inflammatory process of the pharynx, tonsils, or larynx
(hence the terms pharyngitis,
laryngitis). Though this
particular symptom can be present in many different medical conditions, it is
most often experienced during an upper respiratory infection (a "cold"). Viruses
cause the vast majority of cases of sore throat, and individuals generally
improve with expectant management and symptomatic treatment. In certain cases,
however, sore throat can be caused by infectious agents (such as bacteria) that
require a different treatment approach.
What is the difference between sore throat and strep throat?
Sore throat is a generic term used to describe the symptom of discomfort and
pain in the throat area. It does not specify the underlying cause.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils that causes a
sore throat. It is important to note that not all cases of sore throat are
necessarily strep throat. Strep throat is specifically caused by group A
Streptococcus bacteria, and there are characteristic signs and symptoms, as well
as laboratory testing, that can assist in making this particular diagnosis.
What are the causes of sore throat?
There are several different causes of sore throat, which may include the
Bacterial infection: A less common cause of sore throat, a bacterial
infection can lead to strep throat, peritonsillar abscess, retropharyngeal
abscess, diphtheria, epiglottitis, and tonsillitis. Certain
transmitted diseases (STD's), such as
chlamydia, also can rarely
cause a sore throat.
Toxins/Irritants: Various substances such a
cigarette smoke, air
pollution, and noxious airborne chemicals can lead to a sore throat. Medical
conditions such as postnasal drip, allergies, cough,
disease (GERD), and tumors can cause a sore throat. The intentional or
unintentional ingestion of certain substances (for example, bleach) can cause a
Trauma/Injury: Any direct injury to the throat or neck area can lead to a
sore throat. Sometimes, a foreign body (for example, a bone or piece of food)
can cause a sore throat. Excessive yelling or screaming can irritate the
throat and larynx, also leading to a sore throat.
Medical Author: Melissa Stöppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel,
Jr, MD, FACP, FACR
Are you wondering if your sore throat requires
antibiotics? Strep throat, named for
the Streptococcus bacterium that causes the condition,
is a particularly severe form of sore throat that is best treated with
antibiotics. Strep throat can strike both children and adults, but only about
five to ten percent of sore throats are caused by a bacterial infection. Most
sore throats are caused by viral illnesses and are not responsive to treatment with antibiotics.
A true streptococcal infection of the throat often leads
to excruciating throat pain accompanied by difficulty swallowing and even speaking. Fever may be
present, and the tonsils are often covered with a whitish layer of pus.
and runny nose are not commonly related to strep throat, but it is possible to
have a streptococcal infection along with a viral upper respiratory infection
and symptoms of a cold. The bacterial infection may
result in enlarged, tender lymph nodes in the neck. Children may have an accompanying rash; a
infection along with a rash is commonly termed scarlet fever.