What is strep throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation
and pain in the throat. This common condition is caused by group A Streptococcus
bacteria. Strep throat can affect children and adults of all ages.
However, it’s especially common in children between the ages of 5 and 15.
Sneezing and coughing can spread the infection from one person to another.
Pictures of strep throat
Symptoms of strep throat
The severity of strep throat can vary from person-to-person. Some
people experience mild symptoms like a sore throat, whereas other people have
more severe symptoms including fever and difficulty swallowing. The common
symptoms of strep throat include:
- a sudden fever, especially if it’s 101˚F or
- a sore, red throat with white patches
- a headache
- a loss of appetite
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- trouble swallowing
The symptoms of strep throat typically develop within five days
of exposure to the bacteria.
When to see your doctor
Not all sore throats are a result of a strep infection. Other
illnesses can cause a sore throat, too. This includes:
- the common cold
- a sinus infection
- postnasal drip
- acid reflux
Sore throats caused by other medical conditions usually improve
on their own with or without treatment in a few days.
Call your doctor if you experience:
- a sore throat that lasts longer than two days
- a sore throat with white patches
- dark, red splotches or spots on the tonsils or
the top of the mouth
- a sore throat with a fine, sandpaper-like pink
rash on the skin
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
Diagnosing strep throat
If you complain of a persistent sore throat, your doctor will
examine your throat and check for signs of inflammation. Your doctor may also
check your neck for swollen lymph nodes and ask about other symptoms. If your
doctor suspects you have strep throat, they may do a rapid strep test in the office.
This test determines whether your sore throat is caused by a
strep infection or another type of bacteria or germ. Your doctor swabs the back
of your throat with a long cotton swab, collecting a sample. Your doctor will
then send the sample to the lab to look for signs of bacteria.
Results are available in about five minutes. If your rapid strep
test is negative but your doctor thinks that you have strep throat, they can
send your sample to an outside lab for additional testing. These results are
available within a few days.
Treating strep throat
If you’re diagnosed with strep throat, your doctor will prescribe
an antibiotic to treat the infection. These medications inhibit the spread of
bacteria and infections. Several types of antibiotics are available. However,
penicillin and amoxicillin are the most common medications given for a strep
It’s important that you finish your antibiotic treatment course to
kill the infection completely. Some people stop taking their medication when
symptoms improve, which can trigger a relapse. If this happens, the symptoms can
In addition to antibiotics, there are at-home treatments to improve
the symptoms of strep throat. These remedies include:
- drinking warm liquids, such as lemon water and
- drinking cold liquids to help numb the throat
- turning on a cool-mist humidifier
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as
ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- sucking on throat lozenges
- adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of water
and gargling the mixture
Outlook and potential complications of strep
If strep throat is treated, the symptoms will improve within one
week. But if it’s left untreated, strep throat can cause serious complications.
These complications include:
- an ear infection
fever, which is an inflammatory disease that affects the joints, the
heart, and the skin
- post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, which is
an inflammation of the kidneys
which is an infection of the mastoid bone in the skull
fever, which occurs when toxins created by the strep infection cause a
scarlet-colored rash to develop on different parts of the body
psoriasis, which is a condition that causes small, red teardrop-shaped
spots to appear on the body
abscess, which is a pus-filled infection that develops in the back of
To reduce your risk of complications, contact your doctor if your
strep throat symptoms don’t improve within 48 hours of taking an antibiotic. They
may need to prescribe a different antibiotic to fight the infection.