Is My Sore Throat Bacterial or Viral?

Sometimes it is difficult to determine if a painful raleigh sore throat is due to a cold, strep throat, or even tonsillitis.

The Cold, Strep Throat, and Tonsillitis

One of the first signs of a cold, it often a sore or scratchy throat. A sore throat from a cold, however, often improves or is gone after a day or two. Other common cold symptoms which may follow the sore throat can include a runny nose and congestion.

Strep throat, which is an infection from the streptococcus bacteria, is another reason patients experience a sore throats and tonsillitis. When a patient has strep, the sore throat is usually more severe and lasts until antibiotics are started. Tonsillitis is a painful infection or inflammation of the tonsils. The tonsils are the tissue masses which are at the back part of the throat.

It is possible for a sore throat to be caused by a virus or bacteria. In most cases, the causes of a sore throats is due to a virus. Viral sore throats often include additional cold symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, red or watery eyes, and sneezing. Other reasons people can experience a sore throat can include smoking, air pollution or irritants, allergies, and overly dry air.

Other Cold Symptoms

Along with a sore throat, additional symptoms which are common with a cold include the following:

  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing


While there is no proven cure for sore throats caused by a viral cold, there are things you can do to be more comfortable. To help relieve pain and fever symptoms, drink warm, clear liquids, gargle with warm salt water, suck on a popsicle or ice chips, or take an over-the-counter medicine. When you are sick with a cold, it is also important to get enough rest, eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of fluids.

While over-the-counter cold medicine may help relieve cold and sore throat symptoms, the improvements are often temporary and minimal. Some of the most common cold medications include:

  • Pain relievers: this includes acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen. The pain relievers are used to help relieve the aches, pains and sore throat associated with a cold. Children should not take Aspirin as it is linked to Reye's syndrome, a disorder which can result in brain damage and death.
  • Sore throat sprays and lozenges: these can be used to soothe the throat and numb the pain.
  • Decongestant nasal spray: used to help relieve a sore throat from a postnasal drip. Follow the directions for the product and do not use nasal decongestant spray for more than three days as it can make the symptoms worse.

Do not use antibiotics to treat a cold virus with a sore throat as they will not be effective. Antibiotics are only an effective treatment for bacterial infections.

Strep Throat and Sore Throats from a Cold

Patients with strep throat have an infection from the streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat spreads through contact from the saliva or nasal secretions of an infected person. While strep throat is quite common in patients who are 5 to 15 years old, adults can also have strep throat. The doctor is able to perform a rapid strep test or send a throat swab to a lab for strep throat diagnosis. The doctor may also be able to diagnose strep based on the reported symptoms and other visible symptoms including white spots on the throat, a fever, or swollen lymph nodes which are present in the neck.

Sore Throat Overview Symptoms and Treatments