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Is it a cold or strep throat? We clarify the concepts!

Published 2023-11-27 04:33 by Nordictest
Is it a cold or strep throat? We clarify the concepts!

Have you been hit by strep throat or is it just a pesky cold with exactly the same symptoms? It can be difficult to determine if it's a cold or strep throat based solely on symptoms. However, there are some distinct signs and symptoms that can be associated with each condition.

We will go through what the symptoms of strep throat and the common cold are. You can, of course, take a home test for strep throat to determine if you need further care. But remember that it's important to consult a doctor if you experience severe symptoms.

Symptoms and signs of a cold

Colds are caused by viruses. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold, but the most common is called the rhinovirus. A cold sneaks up gradually and can last for 7 to 10 days.

The symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Mild sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild body aches
  • Fever (most common in children)

A cold is treated with rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter remedies that can alleviate nasal congestion and a sore throat. A cold should improve and resolve on its own, but it's important to keep an eye on its progression.

If your immune system is weakened, a common cold can lead to other, more complicated illnesses such as pneumonia, sinusitis, bronchitis, and ear infections. Because of this, it's important to take a cold seriously and seek treatment.

Symptoms and signs of strep throat

If it's strep throat, the illness will feel like it occurs suddenly and not gradually like a cold. Furthermore, it doesn't improve day by day as a cold does. You need to treat strep throat with antibiotics.

The symptoms include:

  • Severe sore throat
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils with white spots or streaks
  • Red spots at the back of the mouth
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash (may be a sign of scarlet fever)
  • Nausea and vomiting (common in children)

To treat strep throat, antibiotics are required, which in turn require a prescription. A positive home test result for strep throat is not sufficient to obtain antibiotics. You must consult a doctor who can provide you with the right type of antibiotics and instructions on how to use them.

How do you know what you have?

Start by looking at the symptoms. Consider how the illness developed. Did it come on suddenly, or did you start feeling a bit off before your nose got stuffy and your throat started to hurt?

Some simple guidelines:

Strep throat - You have severe throat pain, especially when swallowing. Additionally, you have a fever.
- Your nose is running, you're sneezing, and you have a cough.

Take a look at your throat. If you have white spots on your tonsils or red spots in your mouth, it could be strep throat. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck are also a sign of strep throat.

Duration is also a factor to consider. If you take antibiotics and you're still experiencing cold symptoms, it's not unusual. You can be stuck with a cold for over a week. However, once you start taking antibiotics, strep throat symptoms should improve within 48 hours.

Take a home test but avoid self-diagnosis

It may feel good to rule out strep throat with a test or, conversely, confirm that it is indeed strep throat. Just remember that the test is not meant for you to diagnose yourself. It can provide you with guidance.

Even if the test result is negative and you still feel that you have something more than a common cold, you should consult a doctor. It could be something else that requires specific treatment and medication, such as allergies.

Why is it so important to treat strep throat?

Now, you might be thinking that it will go away on its own, and it might. But be aware that treatment with antibiotics can prevent complications of strep throat. One example is rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart.

Considering this, you should take your suspicions seriously. At the very least, take a home test and schedule an appointment for a doctor's examination.

How do you treat a cold?

If you have a common cold, it's caused by a virus, and antibiotics won't be effective. Colds typically resolve on their own. However, it's important to support your body's healing process.

Rest and drink plenty of water. If you have a sore throat, throat lozenges, tea, and honey can help. Don't hesitate to consult a nurse or doctor if you're concerned. Colds can be very uncomfortable, and it's wise to rule out other illnesses that may resemble a cold.

Examples of illnesses that can resemble a cold:

  • Influenza
  • Covid-19
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Mononucleosis
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Sinus infection

If you pay attention to your symptoms and notice how they develop and how long they last, you should be able to determine whether it's strep throat or a cold. When you feel that the course of the illness doesn't resemble what can be expected from a cold or strep throat, it's important to discuss this with an appropriate healthcare provider.

The sooner you start the right treatment, the better, regardless of whether it's a cold, strep throat, or another illness with similar symptoms.