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Sore throats are among the most common reasons for a doctor’s office or urgent care visit. In most cases, sore throats are caused by viruses, allergies, or environmental irritants and resolve on their own or with with over-the-counter remedies. Although less common, strep throat can also cause intense throat pain. Since strep throat can lead to kidney inflammation as well as scarlet and rheumatic fever if not treated, it is important to be able to differentiate the symptoms of strep from the most common causes of sore throat.

Who Is Most at Risk for Strep Throat?

Strep is most common in children between the ages of five and 15. The disease is extremely contagious and spreads rapidly in environments where people are in close contact, such as schools and daycare facilities. Children and teens are also less likely to practice good hand hygiene and are also known to share food, drinks, toys, and other items that may be contaminated. Strep infections tend to be most prevalent during the fall and early spring.

What Causes Strep Throat?

Strep throat is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. An infected person spreads the bacteria through droplets when they cough or sneeze. An unsuspecting person then becomes ill when they breathe in the droplets, touch a contaminated object, or eat or drink from the same plate or glass as the infected person.

What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat?

Once infected, most people start to develop the signs of strep within two to five days. The most common strep throat symptoms include:

  • Intense throat pain that starts suddenly
  • Tonsils that are red and swollen
  • White patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils
  • Red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth
  • Lymph nodes that are swollen and tender
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Body aches

Less common symptoms of strep include stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Individuals with strep may also develop a rash or joint pain if the infection progresses to scarlet or rheumatic fever.

How Strep Throat Symptoms Differ from a Sore Throat Caused by a Virus

It can be hard to differentiate strep throat symptoms from other common illnesses; however, there are some important distinctions. The signs of strep throat normally do not include hoarseness, cough, runny nose, or pink eye. These symptoms are more indicative of a viral infection.

Strep Throat Symptoms in Adults

Although strep throat is most common in children and teens, it does account for five to 10 percent of sore throat cases in adults. Strep throat symptoms in adults are often less pronounced than in children. Adults often do not develop a fever or other signs of strep and may only complain of a mild sore throat.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Strep

In addition to the physical signs of strep throat, a doctor will typically perform a rapid antigen test that can quickly identify strep bacteria antigens (any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it) in the throat. The test involves a quick swab of the throat and can confirm the diagnosis in a matter of minutes.

Antibiotics, if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms can lessen the severity and duration of strep throat and reduce the likelihood of complications. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used to relieve the fever and achiness often associated with strep. Parents should avoid giving aspirin to children and teens suffering from fever or other flu-like symptoms since it has been linked to a potentially fatal liver? condition known as Reye’s syndrome. Children who feel well enough can typically return to school when they are free of fever and have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. Self-help measures, such as drinking plenty of fluids, eating soothing foods, and gargling with salt water can help make you more comfortable while you recover.

Preventing Strep Infections

You can limit your chances of coming down with strep by practicing good hygiene, including:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds
  • Using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available
  • Covering your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoiding sharing glasses or eating utensils with another person

The medical professionals at FastMed Urgent Care clinics are available to diagnose and treat your sore throat and other symptoms. We have convenient locations open extended hours to suit your busy family. We never require an appointment, but do offer online check in to help reduce wait times. Contact FastMed today for more information about our affordable and convenient urgent care services.

About FastMed

FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates nearly 200 centers in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas that provide a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days a year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation and other occupational health services at all its centers, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than six million patients and is the only independent urgent care operator in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas to be awarded The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for quality, safety and infection control in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit

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