Strep Throat or Pharyngitis? Differences in Throat Infections

Strep Throat or Pharyngitis? Differences in Throat Infections

Both strep throat and pharyngitis are fairly common throat infections, which are especially prevalent during autumn and winter. Unfortunately, the two conditions are often confused, which results in inadequate treatment and, as a consequence, a longer recovery process. That is why it is crucial to differentiate between a strep A infection and pharyngitis. What are the key symptoms, causes and treatment methods concerning the two conditions? 

Strep Throat Diagnosis & Treatment 

Strep throat, which is a bacterial infection caused by the Group A Streptococcus bacteria, is one of the most prevalent seasonal diseases in the UK. It is a common throat infection that can affect people of all ages but is most prevalent among school-aged children. Its serious form, invasive group strep A infection, was the cause of 505 deaths among children in England last winter season.

Nevertheless, when diagnosed and managed properly, a strep throat infection is not dangerous for a child’s health. It is crucial to remember that strep throat is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Its symptoms often include a sudden and severe sore throat, difficulty and pain swallowing, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. A strep throat infection can be diagnosed by taking a test based on taking a pharyngeal swab. Strep A self-tests are gaining great popularity as well, allowing for a rapid diagnostic process.

Specialists warn that using antibiotics is crucial for strep A treatment. The use of penicillin or amoxicillin, is crucial to prevent complications, such as rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation. Certain experts claim, however, that a mild strep throat infection does not require antibiotic use, as the human organism is able to fight the infection by itself. Nonetheless, especially in children, it is crucial to seek medical help and assess the infection’s  origin and intensity level.

Pharyngitis Symptoms & Therapy

Unlike strep throat, pharyngitis is usually caused by a viral throat infection. As statistics show, about 50% to 80% of pharyngitis, or sore throat, symptoms are viral in origin and include a variety of viral pathogens. Although some of its symptoms are similar to a strep A infection (both conditions involve a sore throat, difficulty swallowing and general weakness), pharyngitis normally involves mild fever, or only throat scratchiness instead of severe pain. 

Contrary to strep A infections, pharyngitis is not always diagnosed through laboratory procedures. Pharyngitis may not require additional treatment beyond rest and proper hydration, as viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics. While pharyngitis is not dangerous for overall health by itself, numerous patients struggle with recurring viral throat infections, especially during the autumn and winter season. According to The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, one person in ten suffers from recurrent viral throat infections.

Strep Throat vs. Pharyngitis Prevention 

Preventing both strep throat and pharyngitis primarily involves maintaining good hygiene practices and being aware of potential sources of infection. To reduce the risk of strep throat, it is vital to avoid close contact with individuals who are infected, especially if they have not completed their antibiotic treatment. Frequent handwashing and practising good respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing can help minimize the spread of bacteria and viruses that cause pharyngitis. 

For viral pharyngitis, prevention focuses on bolstering your immune system through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, as a strong immune system can help fend off viral infections. Additionally, avoiding exposure to irritants and allergens can reduce the risk of non-infectious pharyngitis. Overall, being vigilant about personal hygiene and minimizing exposure to potential sources of infection are key steps in preventing recurrent throat infections.