Do I Have Strep or the Common Cold? New York, NY
A sore throat is a telltale sign the common cold may be on the way. However, a sore throat can also signal the onset of a more serious condition—strep throat. Each illness has a different cause and may call for further treatment.
Treatment for strep throat or the common cold is available at Marina Gafanovich, MD in New York and the surrounding areas. If you are unsure if your sore throat is the beginning of a cold or strep throat, call us today at (212) 548-3263 to schedule an appointment and learn more.
What Causes a Cold vs. Strep Throat
A virus causes the common cold in the upper respiratory tract, and bacteria cause strep throat. Many people are familiar with the rhinovirus, the most common virus behind a cold, but fewer may be familiar with Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacterium that causes strep throat. Only a small percentage of people with sore throats acquire them due to bacterial infections. Therefore, a sore throat is more likely to be the start of a cold than strep throat. Still, it is vital to know for sure to get the proper treatment.
Both conditions are contagious and spread similarly. The virus that leads to the common cold and the bacteria that cause strep are airborne, and people can get them from an infected person. Since viruses cause the common cold and bacteria cause strep, it is possible to have a common cold and strep throat at the same time.
“Both conditions are contagious and spread similarly.”
Because the two conditions share some common symptoms and can simultaneously infect a person, diagnosing them can be tricky. Both begin with a sore throat that comes on fairly quickly. According to the CDC, if a person has a cough, runny nose, and hoarseness, the illness is likely to be caused by a virus and is not strep throat. The most common symptoms of strep throat include:
- Fever of 101f or more
- Painful swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils
- Red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Nausea and vomiting can be present with strep, especially in small children. Other less common symptoms include head and body aches, stomachache, and a rash. It is essential to know that a person can carry and spread strep throat but exhibit no symptoms.
“Because the two conditions share some common symptoms and can infect a person simultaneously, diagnosing them can be tricky.”
Other Reasons for a Sore Throat
Though a viral infection, like the one that leads to a cold, is the most common cause, a sore throat may be due to other factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, allergies, dry air, irritants, muscle strain, and a digestive system disorder can lead to a sore throat. In rarer cases, a sore throat can signal a cancerous tumor or an HIV infection.
Most common in children, tonsillitis is another possible cause of a sore throat. Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, the two lymph nodes located at each side of the back of the throat. The bacteria that causes strep throat can also cause tonsillitis. This condition usually goes away on its own but may require medical attention if complications arise.
“According to the Mayo Clinic, allergies, dry air, irritants, muscle strain, and a digestive system disorder can lead to a sore throat.”
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Treating a Common Cold vs. Treating Strep Throat
There is no cure for the common cold, and antibiotics will be ineffective because the cause is not bacterial. Over-the-counter medications and good health practices can ease the symptoms of a cold. It is important to note that over-the-counter cold and cough medications should not be used to treat young children. Talk to a medical professional before giving a child any medications. Doctors advise patients to stay hydrated, eat well, and get plenty of rest. Warm liquids such as tea with honey and a saltwater gargle can help ease a sore, scratchy throat and possibly relieve some of the congestion that comes with a cold.
Because a bacterial infection causes strep throat, a medical professional can prescribe a course of antibiotics to fight the disease. It will take a day or two for antibiotics to work, and patients are advised to finish the entire course of prescribed medication. Do not discontinue medication just because you feel better. In the meantime, many of the same approaches for easing the symptoms of a common cold can be used to ease the symptoms of strep throat. A A humidifier can be beneficial, and a nasal spray can help as well.
“Talk to a medical professional before giving a child any medications.”
Questions Answered on This Page
Testing for Strep Throat
The only way to be sure if the condition is strep throat is with a test. A medical professional may use a rapid strep test. This involves the use of a cotton swab to take a sample from the back of the throat. Results usually take 20 minutes. If the test comes back negative, but strep throat is still suspected, the healthcare provider may need to send a throat culture to a lab. This process usually takes two days to produce results
Though strep throat can clear up on its own, it can lead to serious complications. The strep infection can spread to other parts of the body. Pneumonia, rheumatic fever, and scarlet fever are among the conditions strep throat can lead to if left untreated. Some children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are among those at higher risk for complications. For this reason, patients are advised to seek help from a physician to diagnose and treat strep throat.
“Though strep throat can clear up on its own, it can lead to serious complications.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What causes a common cold and strep throat?
A. A virus causes a common cold. There are hundreds of viruses that can lead to a cold, but the rhinovirus is usually the culprit. Streptococcal bacteria, also known as group A streptococcus, causes strep throat.
Q. Is strep throat contagious?
A. Yes. Like the common cold, strep throat is contagious. It is airborne and can be spread when someone coughs or sneezes. A person can be contagious for up to a month if not treated.
Q. How can someone avoid getting sick with a cold or strep throat?
A. As with any contagious illness, people can take steps to prevent the spread. Washing one's hands often is an important first step. Avoid close contact with infected individuals. Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes.
Q. Are there any good home remedies for treating a cold or strep throat?
A. Plenty of rest, a healthy diet, and plenty of fluids will ease the symptoms and aid in recovery. Patients can drink tea with honey or use a saltwater gargle to help with a sore throat's discomfort. Over-the-counter medications can help as well but should be avoided for small children.
Q. Can strep throat go away on its own?
A. Strep throat can go away on its own in three to seven days. However, because strep throat can lead to serious complications in some individuals, assistance from a medical professional is advised. Antibiotics can shorten the duration of the illness. Patients are urged to contact their primary care provider.
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By visiting us as soon as possible, our team can help get you the professional treatment you need. Instead of waiting around and allowing the symptoms to get worse, we can provide you with treatment options.
Definition of Medical Terminology
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The common cold and strep throat present similar symptoms but require different treatments. If you are not sure, our primary care team can help. Call us today at 212-548-3263 to schedule an appointment or learn more about our services.
Helpful Related Links
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 2022
- American Journal of Medicine. American Journal of Medicine. 2022
- American Medical Association (AMA). American Medical Association (AMA). 2022
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022
- Vaccinate Your Family. Vaccinate Your Family. 2022
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