Oral Thrush Vs Strep Throat: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

It’s that time of year again: your throat is scratchy, it hurts to swallow, and you feel generally miserable. Is it oral thrush or strep throat that’s making you feel so awful? While both conditions can cause discomfort in the throat area, they have distinct causes, symptoms, and treatments. Understanding the differences will help you know what you’re dealing with and take appropriate action. Let’s dive in!

What is Oral Thrush?

Oral thrush, also known as oral candidiasis, is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of the Candida albicans yeast. This yeast is normally present in our bodies in small amounts, but certain factors can cause it to multiply excessively, leading to an infection. The infection commonly presents itself within the mouth and throat area.

Causes of Oral Thrush

The following factors may increase your likelihood of developing oral thrush:

  • Weakened immune system: Those with suppressed immune systems are more susceptible to infections, including thrush. Health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or uncontrolled diabetes can put you at higher risk.
  • Medications: Certain medications can disrupt the natural balance in your body. These include antibiotics, corticosteroids (including inhaled corticosteroids for asthma), and medications that cause dry mouth.
  • Infants and older adults: Babies (especially under one month old) and older adults have a higher risk of thrush.
  • Dentures: If dentures are not properly cleaned or don’t fit well, this creates an environment conducive to fungal growth.
  • Other health conditions: Conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, dry mouth, and smoking can also increase the risk of developing thrush.

Symptoms of Oral Thrush

Typical signs and symptoms of oral thrush include:

  • White, creamy patches: The main hallmark of thrush is the presence of white, raised lesions that resemble cottage cheese on the insides of cheeks, tongue, the roof of the mouth, and sometimes the throat.
  • Redness or soreness: Underneath the white patches, there may be red, inflamed areas that can be painful.
  • Loss of taste: Thrush can affect your sense of taste.
  • A cottony feeling in the mouth: You may experience an unpleasant, dry sensation in your mouth.
  • Cracking at the corners of the mouth: Medically known as angular cheilitis.

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. This highly contagious infection is spread through contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. Unlike thrush, strep throat mainly affects the throat and tonsils.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

These are the classic signs of strep throat:

  • Severe sore throat: The pain typically comes on suddenly and can make swallowing incredibly uncomfortable.
  • Fever: Fever (usually above 101°F) is a common symptom of strep throat.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Typically, neck lymph nodes will be tender and enlarged.
  • Red and swollen tonsils: Tonsils may have white patches or streaks of pus on them.
  • Headache: Strep throat infections can bring on headaches.
  • Nausea and stomach upset: These symptoms are more common in children.

It’s essential to note that not everyone with strep throat will experience all these symptoms.

Comparing the Two: Oral Thrush vs. Strep Throat

CharacteristicOral ThrushStrep Throat
CauseFungal infection (Candida)Bacterial infection (Streptococcus)
AppearanceWhite, raised patches inside the mouthRed, swollen tonsils with possible white patches/pus
Main symptomSoreness, pain in the mouth and throatSevere sore throat
Other common symptomsLoss of taste, cottony feelingFever, swollen lymph nodes

Treatment

  • Oral Thrush Treatment: Antifungal medications are the standard treatment for thrush. They are available as lozenges, liquids, or pills. In severe cases, systemic antifungal medication may be needed.
  • Strep Throat Treatment: Antibiotics are essential for treating strep throat and helping prevent complications. It’s crucial to complete the entire course of antibiotics, even if you start feeling better.

FAQs

  1. Are oral thrush and strep throat contagious? Oral thrush is generally not considered contagious in healthy individuals. However, strep throat is highly contagious. Avoid sharing drinks and utensils or engaging in close contact with an infected person.
  2. How long does it take oral thrush or strep throat to clear up? With proper medication, oral thrush usually clears up within a few weeks. Strep throat tends to improve after a few days of antibiotics, but completing the full course is crucial to fully eradicate the infection.
  3. Can I prevent oral thrush or strep throat?
    • Oral thrush prevention: Good oral hygiene (brushing, flossing, tongue scraping), regular dental checkups, and managing underlying conditions such as diabetes are helpful.
    • Strep throat prevention: Frequent handwashing, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and covering your mouth when coughing/sneezing can reduce your risk.

When to See a Doctor

Don’t delay seeking medical attention if you experience any symptoms of oral thrush or strep throat, especially if accompanied by a fever, difficulty swallowing, or breathing issues. Timely intervention ensures rapid recovery and prevents complications.

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