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Is It Just a Sore Throat or Strep Throat?

As summer fades and cooler weather approaches, many kids and adults begin to feel that familiar tickle in their throats. Soon, it’s scratchy and uncomfortable. It hurts when you swallow. You may have a fever, cough, or stuffy nose as well.

Are these strep throat symptoms? Or do you just have a cold? What about the flu, mono, or COVID-19? A sore throat is a warning sign for several health conditions, some that are more serious and contagious than others – so it’s definitely wise to find out for sure.

vybe urgent care is here to help you get to the bottom of your sore throat mystery and stay healthy. Read on to learn the key differences between a sore throat vs. strep throat and why it’s important to get tested and receive strep throat treatment.

When sore throat strikes

The symptoms of a sore throat are undeniable, starting with that scratchy sensation at the back of your throat. Common symptoms that follow include:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Pain when speaking or swallowing
  • Red or swollen tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck

Not all sore throats are health-related. Inhaling smoke or other irritants, breathing dry air, or even overusing your voice (singing loudly at a concert, yelling with the crowd at an Eagles game, etc.) can all leave you with a sore throat.

Most sore throats are caused by an upper respiratory infection, like a cold or the flu. Other possibilities behind your sore throat symptoms include:

  • Bacterial infection (like strep throat)
  • Viral infection (like COVID-19)
  • Allergies
  • Post-nasal drip

The first part of treating your sore throat is determining why your throat is sore, so you can address the cause appropriately. Whether it’s strep throat or something else, stop by your local vybe urgent care today to find out for sure.

Strep throat symptoms to watch for

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that frequently occurs in children but affects people of all ages. Group A streptococcus (the bacteria that causes strep throat) is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can also pick up the bacteria from shared surfaces, such as a doorknob, an elevator button, or a school desk.

When it comes to sore throat vs. strep throat, they do share many symptoms, such as painful swallowing, red or swollen tonsils, and swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

A telltale sign of strep throat is white spots of pus or tiny red spots in the back of your mouth, near your tonsils (similar to these strep throat pictures).

Other strep throat symptoms include:

  • Throat pain that comes on quickly
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Rash
  • Nausea or vomiting (especially in younger children)
  • Lack of cough

If left untreated, strep throat can cause serious health complications like kidney inflammation, rheumatic fever, or heart valve damage. Thankfully, strep throat testing and treatment are both relatively easy.

Strep throat testing at vybe

All vybe urgent care locations provide both rapid strep tests and throat cultures. All it takes is one quick swab of the back of your mouth – within minutes, the rapid test reveals the presence of streptococcal bacteria. If the rapid test is positive, we can immediately start with treatment.

If the rapid test is negative, your vybe clinician will determine if your throat culture needs to be sent to the lab, based on your symptoms and other criteria. Throat culture results are more accurate, but they also take longer (2-4 days vs. less than five minutes). Either way, we’ll make sure you get the answers you need.

Strep throat treatment

Your vybe clinician may prescribe antibiotics after a positive rapid strep test or throat culture, usually penicillin or amoxicillin. Just be sure to finish your prescription – even if you begin to feel better before your medicine is gone. Taking all the medicine helps ensure that the bacteria is completely gone.

Keep in mind that antibiotics are not prescribed for a sore throat, as they do not work on viruses, the flu, or the common cold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that antibiotics are only beneficial for treating certain infections caused by bacteria, like strep throat.

At vybe, we value antibiotic stewardship and do our part to prevent antibiotic resistance over time. Learn more about why you might not get prescribed antibiotics in urgent care and vybe’s commitment to prescribing antibiotics responsibly for all patients.

Sore throat vs. strep throat recap

Here are the key differences between a sore throat and strep throat:

  • A sore throat is a symptom of various health conditions and is most commonly caused by a viral infection
  • Strep throat is a bacterial infection
  • Strep throat signs tend to be more visible, including white or red spots on the tonsils
  • Strep throat is treated with antibiotics – a sore throat that is not strep is not

Other illnesses associated with a sore throat

Don’t just assume that your sore throat will eventually go away on its own – if strep throat is ruled out, a sore throat could still be a sign of something else. When in doubt, visit your local vybe urgent care for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Mononucleosis (Mono)

Mono is a contagious infection caused by a number of different viruses (most often the Epstein-Barr virus). Known as the “kissing disease” because it’s spread through bodily fluids, mono is most common among teenagers and young adults. The hallmark symptom of mono is fatigue which can sometimes last for months. Other symptoms include sore throat, body and muscle aches, loss of appetite, swollen liver or spleen, and more.

Influenza (Flu)

Like strep throat, the flu virus is easily passed from person to person – especially when an infected person sneezes or coughs, or you touch an infected surface. Symptoms of the flu include sore throat, fever, chills, body and muscle aches, dry cough, and fatigue. The flu can occasionally be life-threatening, leading to pneumonia, heart attack, and other severe complications, especially at the extremes of age.

Like all viral infections, the flu cannot be treated with antibiotics. However, certain medicines can help reduce your symptoms if you get them in the first 48 hours. Stop by your local vybe urgent care as soon as you start feeling sick.

Want to reduce your chances of catching the flu? Get a flu shot at vybe every year.


COVID-19 is a respiratory virus with many similar symptoms to strep throat, starting with a sore throat. However, there are also key differences, starting with how quickly the symptoms appear. The throat soreness associated with strep throat tends to appear relatively suddenly, while COVID-19 symptoms are more gradual.

Common COVID-19 symptoms not associated with strep throat include coughing, difficulty breathing, loss of smell or taste, and more. For convenient COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and boosters, visit vybe today.

Solve your sore throat mystery at vybe

If your throat hurts, vybe is here for you. You don’t have to search for strep throat pictures online or wonder what your sore throat is trying to tell you. Just walk into any vybe urgent care – we’ll review your symptoms, conduct any necessary tests, and get you on the path to feeling better.

Our urgent care locations are open seven days a week with extended weekday evening hours to serve you. Come see us today!