Stuffy nose and sore throat

Is it Strep Throat or the Flu?

Your child’s throat is sore, has a headache and a fever.

Is it strep or the flu? Maybe, both?

Strep and flu are two very different things, although they may have similar symptoms at times.

First, let’s distinguish between the two.

The flu is a viral infection that impacts the nose, throat and lungs. A flu, or cold, can make the throat sore and scratchy

Strep is a bacterial infection. Strep causes the throat to be very sore and it becomes very painful to swallow and they typically don’t eat, or only eat very soft things. With a cold or flu, children usually eat fine or if not the reason is appetite not pain with swallowing.

They both can cause a fever, sore throat, chills, muscle aches and even nausea.

So how do you tell the difference?

Even for a pediatrician, it’s difficult to distinguish strep from the flu by a quick look inside a child’s throat. Studies have been done that shows that without the proper tests, physicians can’t tell the difference half the time.

Strep can cause white spots, but rarely does. Usually the throat is somewhat red and can have the red spots which are petechia. The body aches in strep are also less severe in strep and one of the defining symptoms of flu.

The only accurate way to diagnose strep is through a strep screen or a throat culture.

Strep throat symptoms include:

  • Red, sore throat with white patches
  • Headache
  • Swollen, sore glands in the neck
  • Fever
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Painful, difficult swallowing
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and possibly vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches, especially in the neck, and abdominal pains, especially in younger children
  • Swelling in back of mouth

We will take more tests to confirm the diagnosis that may include a throat culture, rapid DNA test or rapid antigen strep throat.

Most strep will get better in about a week to 10 days.

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Although the symptoms may fade, the infection may remain. Please make sure to take all the antibiotics prescribed.

You may be surprised to find out that about 30 percent of people have strep in their throat at all times and it does not cause symptoms. To help reduce your child’s chances of strep, follow these tips:

  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t share food or drink
  • Avoid exposure to other people with strep
  • Replace your child’s toothbrush after starting antibiotics

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

We advise everyone to get the flu shot. However, if you or your child are sick with the flu, stay home, rest and avoid contact with other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (except for medical care or other necessities). The fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

In some cases of the flu, you may be prescribed antiviral drugs that are prescription medicines. These aren’t sold over-the-counter and you can only get them with a prescription. The drugs aren’t antibiotics which fight against bacterial infections (strep for instance), but they fight against the virus.

You may hear someone say that their child got strep and flu at the same time. This can happen, but it’s very uncommon. Both are increase in the winter months, and symptoms such as sore throat, fever, etc. can overlap, which is likely why children are being treated for both.

Strep and flu two are entirely different things. Colds and flu always cause a sore throat, but strep is never the cause of cold symptoms.

So if your child has cold symptoms and a sore throat and gets tested for strep, it could be a false positive or it could just be a coincidence. For instance if your child has a cold or flu, then they go to the doctor or to school and are exposed to someone with strep throat. Now he or she has both. But they aren’t related.

And remember because they are different, they would each have to be treated differently and separately.

I hope this helps. We’ve been asked a lot about it lately. Stay healthy.

Flu, Cold or Allergies? Know the Symptoms

The season for sniffles is in full swing. But, before you run to the store and buy medicine to treat a cold, make sure you know the cause of your symptoms. Differentiating between a flu, cold or allergies can be difficult because they have similar symptoms.

Seasonal Flu Symptoms

The flu usually begins quickly. The first symptoms are a fever between 102 and 106°F. (An adult usually has a lower fever than a child.)

Other common symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Flushed face
  • Headache
  • Lack of energy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue, exhaustion and weakness
  • Chest discomfort and cough

Between day 2 and day 4 of the illness, the fever and “whole body” symptoms begin to fade.

You Might Also Like:

Antibiotics: When Are They Effective?

Then breathing symptoms begin to increase. The symptom is usually not a dry cough. Most people also develop a sore throat and headache. Runny nose and sneezing are common. It is a clear, watery nasal discharge.

These symptoms (except the cough) usually go away in 4 – 7 days. Sometimes, the fever returns. The cough and feeling tired may last for weeks. Some people may not feel like eating.

The flu can make asthma, breathing problems, and other long-term illnesses worse.

The Common Cold Symptoms

The common cold is the most common upper respiratory tract infection. More than 200 different viruses can cause colds. Symptoms usually develop 1 – 3 days after being exposed to the virus.

  • It nearly always starts rapidly with throat irritation and stuffiness in the nose.
  • Within hours, full-blown cold symptoms usually develop, which can include sneezing, mild sore throat, fever, minor headaches, muscle aches, and coughing.
  • Fever is low-grade or absent. In small children, however, fever may be as high as 103 °F for 1 or 2 days. The fever should go down after that time, and be back to normal by the 5th day.
  • Nasal discharge is usually clear and runny the first 1 – 3 days. It then thickens and becomes yellow to greenish.
  • The sore throat is usually mild and lasts only about a day. A runny nose usually lasts 2 – 7 days, although coughing and nasal discharge can persist for more than 2 weeks.

Here Are the Handwashing Basics Everyone Should Know

Allergy Symptoms

The following are just a few allergy symptoms you could experience.

  • No fever
  • Breathing problems
  • Burning, tearing or itchy eyes
  • Conjunctivitis (red, swollen eyes)
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Itching of the nose, mouth, throat, skin or any other area
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing

If you think that you are suffering from allergies, a cold or flu, then make an appointment to see your doctor. If you need a doctor, let us help you find one. Your physician may perform allergy tests and prescribe medications to help you deal with your symptoms. People who become very sick with the flu may want to see a health care provider. People who are at high risk for flu complications may also want to see a doctor if they get the flu.

What to Do When Allergies Cause a Sore Throat

When I get allergies, my symptoms are in the back of my throat, not my nose. Is that weird?

Normal! Allergic reactions are different for everyone. Your nose and throat are lined with glands that continually produce mucus—an amazing 1 to 2 quarts per day. This mucus keeps your upper respiratory tract moist and clean, protecting you from infection.

Usually you swallow it without noticing, but when you encounter an allergen, like dust or pollen, your body releases chemicals that amp up mucus production, leading to excessive (and annoying) secretions. In some people, this causes a runny nose. In others, the extra mucus drains down the throat—a symptom called postnasal drip, which can cause tickling, coughing or soreness.

If it’s allergies, you’ll likely also have itchy, watery eyes and sneezing. Try taking an antihistamine. If you’re really congested or feverish, it could be a sinus infection or strep throat. Problems such as acid reflux cause symptoms akin to postnasal drip, so see your doctor if allergen avoidance and drugs don’t do the trick.

RELATED: New Ways to Stay Sneeze-Free

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaska, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

What Are Colds and Allergies?

They have different causes. You get a cold when a tiny living thing called a virus gets into your body. There are hundreds of different types that can get you sick.

Once a cold virus gets inside you, your immune system, the body’s defense against germs, launches a counter-attack. It’s this response that brings on the classic symptoms like a cough or stuffed up nose.

The viruses that cause colds are contagious. You can pick them up when someone who’s infected sneezes, coughs, or shakes hands with you. After a couple of weeks, at the most, your immune system fights off the illness and you should stop having symptoms.

It’s a different story with allergies. They’re caused by an overactive immune system. For some reason, your body mistakes harmless things, such as dust or pollen, for germs and mounts an attack on them.

When that happens, your body releases chemicals such as histamine, just as it does when fighting a cold. This can cause a swelling in the passageways of your nose, and you’ll start sneezing and coughing.

Unlike colds, allergies aren’t contagious, though some people may inherit a tendency to get them.

Is it allergies or a cold?

Cold and allergy symptoms often overlap, so it’s easy to mistake cold symptoms for allergies, and vice versa. Understanding the cause of your symptoms helps you choose the right treatment. It also gives you a better picture of your overall health.

Clinicians use the 5 factors below to help distinguish between colds and allergies.

1. When did you begin to feel unwell?

If you remember being around someone who had an upper respiratory infection a few days before you started feeling ill, you may have caught a viral infection. Viruses are spread by contact with sneezes, coughs, and contaminated surfaces such as door handles. Allergies, on the other hand, can begin immediately after coming in contact with triggers such as pollen. If you think you might be experiencing a seasonal allergy, check the pollen count in your area; if levels are high, allergies may be the culprit.

2. What are your symptoms?

Both allergies and colds may cause a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, a cough, and fatigue. Itchy eyes, post-nasal drip, and dark circles under your eyes are more common with allergies. Symptoms more commonly caused by a virus include sore throat, cloudy or discolored nasal discharge, fever, and general aches and pains.

3. How long have you been affected?

A cold usually lasts 3 to 14 days. Allergy symptoms can last for weeks or months —as long as you’re exposed to the allergen you’re reacting to.

4. Are you treating multiple symptoms?

For a cold, get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids, including water, tea, or soup with lots of broth. For allergies, it can help to shower and change your clothes often because allergens cling to skin, hair, and clothing. For both colds and allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers may help you feel better, although they won’t make a cold go away any faster. And no matter what ails you, avoid medications that treat multiple symptoms, especially if you don’t have some of the symptoms the medication is meant to treat.

If home treatments aren’t working and you still don’t feel well, connect with our Consulting Nurse Service or if you are in the Seattle area, visit a CareClinic by Kaiser Permanente at Bartell Drugs.

5. How can I prevent colds and allergies?

To avoid catching a virus and spreading colds:

  • Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, which are the areas of your body most vulnerable to germs.

To avoid seasonal allergies:

  • Try to limit your contact with the allergens you react to.
  • If your allergies bother you a lot, immunotherapy (such as allergy shots) may help reduce or even completely prevent irritating symptoms.

Know your paths to care

We’re here to help you get better quickly, with tools and information for self-care and convenient options for visits or advice when you need it. Easy ways to get help for your cold or allergy symptoms include:

  • Consulting Nurse Service: Call a nurse, who will assess your symptoms and recommend treatments or other next steps. Available 24/7.
  • Online visit: Complete a questionnaire about your symptoms. A clinician will provide a diagnosis, treatment plan and, if needed, a prescription — without a trip to your doctor’s office.
  • CareClinic by Kaiser Permanente at Bartell Drugs:Walk in for care at 15 Puget Sound Bartell Drugs locations. Open 7 days a week with evening and weekend hours.
  • You can also visit a walk-in clinic at our Puyallup and Port Orchard medical offices.

If symptoms become severe, Kaiser Permanente urgent care centers are there for you, too.
Use our seasonal allergies action plan as a quick, easy cheat sheet for allergy season prep.

Want more local health news, wellness tips, recipes, and more? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *