Sore Throat


Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Sore throat diagnosis

When looking for the cause of your sore throat11, your healthcare provider will conduct a physical exam. This exam usually includes looking at the throat, ears, and nasal passages with a light; feeling the neck for swollen lymph nodes; and using a stethoscope to listen for abnormal breathing.

Sore throat tests: bacterial

If a viral infection has been ruled out as a cause for your sore throat, a strep throat test administered by a provider will determine if your symptoms are caused by strep bacteria.

The preliminary test, a rapid antigen test, is quick. In performing this test, a provider swabs the throat to test for the presence of bacteria, which can be detected within minutes.

If this test returns negative, a provider may proceed with a throat culture to confirm the presence of bacteria. A throat culture involves a provider rubbing a sterile swab over the back of the throat and tonsils to obtain a secretion sample.

This sample is then sent to a laboratory, which creates a culture of it. It can take 2–5 days for the results of the culture to identify the presence of bacteria.

Sore throat tests: viral

Sometimes, sore throats are caused by the influenza virus.

One type of test, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test12, is becoming common in hospitals and labs. The test is rapid and more sensitive than other tests, and may even be able to identify the strain of influenza you have. A PCR test requires a sample (sometimes a nasal swab) for analysis and identification of the presence of a virus.

RIDTs, or rapid influenza diagnostic tests, are the most common tests used to diagnose the flu. RIDTs, unlike PCR tests, cannot identify different strains of the flu.

These tests, as their name suggests, are fast, generally providing results within about 10–15 minutes. They are not as accurate as other flu tests, however, and sometimes provide false negatives (you have the flu but your test comes back as negative).

Like a PCR test, RIDTs require a swab from the inside of your nose or the back of your throat.

Rapid molecular assays work by detecting a virus’ genetic material. Using a nasal or throat swab as a sample, these tests produce results in 15–20 minutes. Rapid molecular assays are more accurate than RIDTs.

It’s always the best practice to see your healthcare provider if you experience severe or worsening symptoms accompanying a sore throat.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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