Sore throats are a typical symptom of many common bacterial and viral illnesses. They both can cause a red, irritated throat and pain when swallowing. Viral infections have some different symptoms than bacterial, so it's important to look at all of your symptoms to see what you're dealing with. For instance, your tongue might say it all.
Open Up and Say Ah
Sometimes, the little details will help distinguish your type of illness. Aside from the standard sore throat, swollen glands, headache, and fever, take a good look at your tongue to see what you find. Look into a mirror with your mouth wide open and your tongue sticking out (kids love this one.) If you notice a white, yellowish, or gray-like film or dots on the tongue, there is a good chance you may have strep throat.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat caused by the Group A streptococcus bacteria. Although it is most common in school-aged children, anyone exposed can get it. Strep is easily passed through droplets of saliva just by talking, sneezing, or coughing. Some typical signs of strep include:
- Sudden sore throat
- Painful to swallow
- White patches (pus) in the back of the throat or tongue
- Loss of appetite in children (hurts to eat)
However, if you notice that your tongue may have a whitish coating and a "strawberry"-like (red and bumpy) appearance, there is also a chance that your condition may be scarlet fever.
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that may develop when a person has already developed strep throat. Along with a red and bumpy tongue, scarlet fever can also cause a rash that spreads over the face, neck, trunk, arms, and legs.
Other Symptoms of Scarlet Fever Include:
- Sore throat
- Painful to swallow
- Strawberry-like tongue
- Red rash that covers most of the body
- Bright red areas in the folds of the skin
- Flushed face over the cheeks
- High fever
If strep throat turns into scarlet fever, you will notice a rash about two days after symptoms begin. The treatment for both is the same. Your next step would be to take a strep throat test (rapid or culture) to see if the bacteria is present. If so, antibiotics are needed to kill the strain and prevent the strep from spreading to others. If the strep or scarlet fever is not treated, complications can arise, including rheumatic fever, ear and sinus infections, or Pneumonia.
Even if all the signs point to strep throat, testing for strep is still essential because many illnesses look like one another but require different treatments. Antibiotics will not help a virus. It is also important to mention that having white bumps or coating on the tongue could be other conditions such as oral thrush (yeast). Only a rapid strep test or a throat culture can determine if group A strep is the cause. If it is negative, it is highly recommended to see a doctor for further testing.