- Who Can Get It
- Side Effects
- Should I Take Antibiotics?
- Strep Throat Symptoms
- When Should You See a Doctor?
- How to Relieve Strep Throat
- When to Take Antibiotics
What is strep throat?
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, however, in some cases, the sore throat might be caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep). This bacteria can also cause skin infections. Experts estimate that more than 10 million group A strep infections (throat and skin) occur every year.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils. The bacteria irritate and inflame the throat and quickly cause a severe sore throat.
There may be pain when swallowing as well as red and swollen tonsils. Lymph nodes in the front of the neck may also be swollen. Other common symptoms include a fever and tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth called petechiae. Some people may have headaches, nausea, stomach pain, or vomiting. However, not all people with strep throat have symptoms.
Who can get it
Strep throat is more common among children aged 5 to 15, but can affect people of all ages. It’s rare in children under 3 years of age. Adults who are parents of school-aged children or who are often in contact with children are more at risk for strep throat. You’re also at higher risk for strep throat if you have close contact with a person with strep throat as it's highly contagious.
Diagnosis for strep throat
Your healthcare provider can test if you have group A strep by doing a rapid strep test or throat culture. A rapid strep test looks for antigens, which are substances that cause your immune system to produce antibodies against it. The results can be ready in 10 to 20 minutes. However, the test may be negative even if strep is present, so a throat culture may be needed. A throat culture looks for Strep A bacteria. It’s more accurate but results take 24 to 48 hours.
For both tests, your healthcare provider will use a tongue depressor to hold down your tongue and then take a sample from the back of your throat and tonsils.
Treatments for strep throat
Healthcare providers treat strep throat with antibiotics. After taking antibiotics for 48 hours, you should start feeling better. There are also some treatments you can try out at home to help soothe your symptoms.
If the strep test is positive, antibiotics like amoxicillin and penicillin are prescribed. Other antibiotics may be tried if there is a penicillin allergy. The symptoms are often gone within a few days of taking antibiotics, but you should still finish the full course of antibiotics, otherwise the symptoms may return.
If you have strep throat, you should stay home until you no longer have a fever and have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.
It’s important to practice good hygiene to stop strep throat from spreading. This includes:
- Washing your hands often,
- Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and
- Not sharing food, dishes, drinking glasses, or utensils and washing them in hot soapy water or in a dishwasher after each use.
There are some things you can do at home to help soothe your throat faster.
- Drink lots of fluids. Warm liquids like tea with honey can make your throat feel better. Sucking on ice pops can help too. Don’t drink acidic drinks like orange juice or lemonade as that will irritate the throat more.
- Eat soft foods that are easy to swallow like soup, mashed potatoes, and yogurt.
- Try an over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.
- Over-the-counter throat lozenges or anesthetic throat spray can help soothe throat pain. Lozenges shouldn’t be given to young children because they might choke on them.
- A natural method of soothing a sore throat is gargling with warm salt water. Mix about 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup (240ml) of water.
- Use a humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer to add moisture to the air.
- Get lots of rest.
Side effects of treatments
If left untreated, strep throat bacteria may spread to other parts of the body and lead to complications. These include:
- Scarlatina or scarlet fever is a red skin rash that feels like sandpaper. The rash fades in about 7 days and the skin may peel.
- A rare kidney disease called poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis may occur, which is the result of your body’s immune system trying to fight off the group A strep bacteria. Among its symptoms are dark reddish-brown urine and swelling in the face, hands, and feet.
- Small scaly teardrop-shaped spots that suddenly appear on the middle of the body and limbs called guttate psoriasis may occur. The spots may be itchy but aren’t contagious. Usually mild cases can be treated at home, but it may be severe in those with weakened immune systems.
- Pus can collect behind the tonsils. This is known as tonsillar abscess. This happens when the bacteria spreads to the surrounding tissues.
- Rheumatic fever is a rare complication that can cause severe illness in the heart, brain, joints, and skin. It typically develops about 14 to 28 days after strep throat and can result in permanent damage to the heart valves.
Strep throat: Should I take antibiotics?
Sore throats are usually caused by viruses (such as cold or flu) or from smoking. Very occasionally they can be caused by bacteria. Sore throats are very commonly seen during winter or cold season when respiratory diseases are at their peak. There is usually nothing to worry about because they generally get better by themselves within a week.
The following infections may cause sore throat
- Tonsillitis (infection of the tonsils)
- Strep throat (a bacterial throat infection)
- Mononucleosis infection (glandular fever)
What are the symptoms of strep throat?
You may have a strep throat if you have
- A painful throat, especially while swallowing
- A dry, scratchy throat
- Redness in the back of the mouth
- Bad breath
- Mild cough
- Swollen neck glands
- Low-grade fever
If your child has a sore throat, they may have similar symptoms; however, children may get a fever and appear less active.
When should you see a doctor?
You must see a doctor if you have
- A sore throat that does not improve after a week
- Frequent sore throats within the last four months
- Concerns about your condition
- Fever and feeling hot and shivering
- Weak immunity because of diabetes or chemotherapy
- High fever (more than 100°F)
- Ear pain
A severe or long-lasting sore throat could be strep throat, which is a bacterial throat infection. In this case, you must see a doctor.
You must visit an emergency if you have
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Stridor (high-pitched sound while you are breathing)
- Severe symptoms and worsening quickly
How can I relieve my strep throat?
To help soothe your sore throat and shorten the duration of suffering, you can
- Gargle with warm salty water three times (except children) to relieve discomfort and pain.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Get adequate rest.
- Eat cool and soft food to ease swallowing.
- Avoid smoking or smoky places.
- Use over-the-counter medicated lozenges or a throat spray.
- Use medicines to reduce your fever such as paracetamol. You should avoid using these medications in children without consulting your pediatrician.
Should I take antibiotics?
Most sore throats get better (cold or viral flu) in a week to 10 days.
Doctors do not normally prescribe antibiotics for viral sore throats because they will not help relieve your symptoms or speed up the recovery process.
Your doctor may advise and prescribe antibiotics for you when
- They diagnose you with a bacterial infection or after your throat examination and throat swab test.
- You have pus formation in the tonsils.
You must complete the course if your doctor has advised you to take an antibiotic. This will avoid further complications such as the recurrence of an infection and the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
If your sore throat is caused by allergies, your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat them. If you have glandular fever (mononucleosis), it may last for more than four weeks and can be cured with plenty of rest.
Antibiotics won’t help you if you have viral infections. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines for you in serious cases.
You should avoid taking antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription/advice.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Rheumatic Fever: All You Need to Know.”
Centers for Disease Control: “Scarlet Fever: All You Need to Know.”
Centers for Disease Control: “Strep Throat: All You Need to Know.”
Medline Plus: “Guttate psoriasis.”
Medline Plus: “Strep A Test.”
Medline Plus: “Strep throat.”
Merck Manuals: “Tonsillar Cellulitis and Tonsillar Abscess.”
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Group A Streptococcal Infections.”