What is Strep Throat?
Strep throat is an infection caused by the bacteria group A Streptococcus, resulting in an inflamed, sore throat and other symptoms. Though more common in children than adults, strep throat affects people of all ages. Left untreated, the infection can lead to a variety of complications, including rheumatic fever and inflammation of the kidneys.
While up to 13,000 cases of invasive group A Strep occur in the United States each year, only a small portion of sore throats reported annually are a result of bacterial infection (the majority are caused by viruses).
How Do Sore Throats Differ from Strep Throat?
For many people, a sudden sore throat brings about anxiety over whether or not strep throat might be the culprit—and understandably so. In many cases, however, a sore throat may be the initial sign of an oncoming virus such as the common cold . Sore throats that aren’t accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes or white pus on the tonsils are more likely to be the result of a virus than strep throat, though symptoms may vary from one person to another.
While strep throat will benefit from antibiotic treatment, sore throats associated with cold viruses will not.
Symptoms of Strep Throat
Symptoms of strep throat can vary quite a bit between individuals. For some, the illness may come on gradually and never progress symptomatically past a moderately sore throat. Others, however, may experience sudden onset of more severe symptoms that get worse with time rather than better.
Signs and symptoms of strep throat include:
- Throat Pain
- Fever (Usually Sudden) of 101 F or Higher
- Painful Swallowing
- Upset Stomach
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Body Aches
- Swollen Lymph Nodes in Neck
- Loss of Appetite
Severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:
- Difficulty Breathing or Swallowing
- Pain in Chest or Joints
- Severe Sore Throat
Diagnosing & Treating Strep Throat
Because it is a bacterial infection, Strep throat must be diagnosed and treated swiftly to avoid potential complications. Diagnosis typically begins with a physical exam, followed by a rapid antigen test performed by obtaining a swab sample from the throat. While rapid antigen tests can detect the presence of strep bacteria in minutes, a traditional throat culture may be ordered if results are negative and strep is still suspected.
If strep throat is confirmed, you and your treating provider will discuss a treatment plan. Some of which may include:
- Antibiotics — Strep throat is most commonly treated with oral antibiotics, which can help to reduce the duration of the illness when taken within 48 hours of onset. Penicillin and amoxicillin are the two most common choices made by doctors in treating strep throat, though other options exist for those with allergies or sensitivities. Once a treatment course has been started, patients can expect to begin feeling better within 2-3 days.
- Pain & Fever Relievers — Because strep throat is often associated with painful sore throat and fever, over-the-counter (OTC) medications may be recommended for symptomatic relief. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin can all be effective, although caution should always be used when giving aspirin to children—including teenagers—due to risk of Reye’s syndrome.
- Home Remedies — While antibiotics can effectively clear up most cases of strep throat, there are a number of ways to stay comfortable in the meantime. Gargling with salt water can help soothe an irritated throat, as can eating soothing foods like ice pops, yogurt and puréed vegetables. Be sure to get plenty of rest, and avoid going to work or school if possible—strep throat is highly contagious.
Children are more likely to get strep throat than adults in most cases. If left untreated, a number of serious complications may arise, including:
- Rheumatic Fever — Occurs when strep bacteria travels through the bloodstream and attaches to one of the heart valves.
- Abscess — Spread of infection to the neck in the form of a large mass called a “peritonsillar abscess.” Must be treated immediately with IV antibiotic therapy.
- Glomerulonephritis — Glomerulonephritis is inflammation of the kidneys and can occur
when the immune system creates antibodies to attack strep bacteria. Fortunately, prompt treatment with antibiotics can drastically reduce the chances of some complications occurring. Keep in mind, too, that fever associated with strep throat in children should never be treated with aspirin, as doing so may result in Reye’s syndrome—a rare disorder that causes brain and liver damage.
Kick Strep Throat with ConvenientMD!
At ConvenientMD, we see and treat strep throat regularly—especially during “strep season” (late fall/early spring). Visit any of our Urgent Care locations to get treated without ever needing an appointment.