A sore throat can be a symptom of a number of illnesses — both viral and bacterial. To ensure proper treatment is given, it’s important to diagnose what the cause of the sore throat may be.

There are many throat infections that require antibiotics — strep throat being one. Strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis) is a contagious infection, which research has shown to cause 37 percent of sore throats in children and between 5 and 15 percent of sore throats in adults.

Common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Fever
  • Red sore throat, possibly with white patches
  • Chills
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Pain when swallowing
  • General ill feeling
  • Headache

Strep throat is contagious by close contact and is often spread through sharing drinks or utensils, kissing, or coughing into your hand and touching doorknobs or shaking hands. Symptoms often begin within two to five days of contact with the strep germ.

If strep throat is suspected, most health care providers can perform a rapid strep test. However, there is a chance that even if you have strep, the test can still be negative. If the test is positive, antibiotics should be prescribed, as they are necessary to speed up the recovery process and lower the risk of spreading infection. In certain patients, a short course of steroids can significantly improve their condition, especially pain.

If strep isn't the case, a sore throat could be caused by a peritonsillar abscess, which occurs when one or both tonsils become infected by bacteria. Symptoms of a peritonsillar abscess are similar to strep throat and include: chills, difficulty swallowing, fever, headache, tender glands of the jaw and throat, and severe sore throat that is usually on one side.

If the infection is caught early, antibiotics may treat the condition, however, if a peritonsillar abscess is diagnosed, the abscess will need to be drained.

Another illness to be aware of when experiencing a sore throat is mononucleosis. Because the symptoms of mononucleosis, or mono, are similar to strep, the two diseases are often confused. Symptoms can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • General discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen spleen 

Mono and strep have a different goal for treatment; treatment for mono is usually aimed to provide symptom relief, while strep treatment is designed to quicken recovery and prevent the illness from spreading.

If you have symptoms of strep throat or are being treated for strep but are not feeling better within 24 to 48 hours, go to Highland Park Emergency Center at 5150 Lemmon Ave. Suite 108, a free-standing emergency room right in your neighborhood that is open 24-hours a day — the only no-wait emergency room around.  An emergency room physician can see you quickly, evaluate your condition, and take steps to alleviate your symptoms immediately. If appropriate, they will admit you to the hospital if needed.

Highland Park Emergency Center

5150 Lemmon Ave. Suite 108
Dallas, Texas 75209

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