Strep Throat

1 What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can make the throat feel sore and itchy. Strep throat is most common in children, but can be found in people of all ages.

Strep throat is a type of a sore throat caused by streptococcal bacteria. This bacterium causes infection in your throat and the tonsils. Aside from pain, strep throat also causes fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. Some patients may also experience a strep throat rash called scarlet fever.

Although it is easily confused for a sore throat, there are important differences.

First, sore throat is often caused by viruses, while strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection. Second, strep throat is typically more painful than a regular sore throat, and it often persists. Lastly, strep throat requires treatment because it can worsen and cause other serious conditions. Because of those reasons, it is important to immediately distinguish a sore throat from strep throat so measures can be taken right away.

Strep throat is highly contagious. It can easily spread through droplets expelled when an infected patient sneezes or coughs.

2 Signs of strep throat

There are a number of signs and symptoms that can indicate you have strep throat. A painful throat that may contain white patches and redness are main signs of a strep infection. However, some people who have the infection do not show major signs of strep throat.

In children, the most common sign is hoarseness. Also, the child may present reddened cheeks, swollen tongue, or a rough red rash on the arms, torso, and the back if scarlet fever is present.  

If you want to distinguish what does strep throat looks like, just remember to watch out for white patches in throat and tonsils. There will be noticeable swelling and redness of the surrounding areas. You can search for strep throat pictures to make yourself familiar with the condition.

Aside from pain, the throat tends to feel scratchy, and pain becomes worse when you swallow or talk. The lymph nodes under the jaw and the neck may become sore and swollen.

Other symptoms to watch out for are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and body aches. These symptoms can help identify strep throat in children and adults. How long strep throat lasts depends on the treatment. If medicines are not given, it may last around a week or more.

Signs and symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Pain in the throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • White patches or spots of pus
  • Small red spots on the hard palate
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash and bodyaches

3 How do you get strep throat and what causes it?

Strep throat is caused by streptococcus bacteria, specifically streptococcus pyogenes. Streptococcus is also involved in ear infections and impetigo, as well as more serious conditions such as rheumatic fever, pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and cellulitis

This bacteria is highly contagious. You can be infected by streptococcus bacteria by coming into contact with airborne droplets that were expelled by a person with strep throat. Coughing and sneezing can expel droplets that travel long distances, and it makes strep throat contagious. 

Is strep throat contagious?


It is a highly contagious infection and spread through air droplets, through shared foods and by touching infected objects.

There is also evidence that some people can be carriers of streptococcus bacteria; they often do not get strep throat or have an infection, but they can spread the bacteria and cause infection to others.

The strep bacteria is most contagious a few days before symptoms appear. So you may be spreading strep throat before you even know you have it. 

4 Diagnosing strep throat

Only a doctor can diagnose strep throat. Strep throat is often diagnosed in children when parents bring their children to a clinic due to fever, hoarseness, and vomiting.

Strep throat is easily recognized by the doctor after a physical examination and a checkup of symptoms. Doctors may also order tests to determine if a sore throat is caused by a virus or streptococcus bacteria. Such tests include: 

  • Throat culture – A cotton swab is rubbed on the back of the throat and/or tonsils to collect a sample of cells. Then, the sample is cultured in a laboratory to determine the presence of bacteria. It is accurate, but it takes few days.
  • Rapid antigen test – A sample obtained from your throat is exposed to reagents with an antigen that quickly detects the presence of bacteria. A rapid antigen test produces results much faster than throat culture, but it is not always accurate. Some doctors will perform both a rapid antigen test then follow-up with a throat culture. 

Proper diagnosis is very important for strep throat treatment because it helps the doctor determine the appropriate medication to prescribe.

5 How to treat strep throat

There are several treatment approaches to strep throat, including:

  • Antibiotics: These medications prevent the growth or kill the streptococcus bacteria responsible for the condition. The course of the treatment depends on the severity of symptoms, risk of complications and spreading of infection to others.
  • Symptomatic therapy is considered for treatment which includes administration of analgesics-these are the drugs which can relieve pain.
  • NSAIDs: These drugs reduce the five characteristic signs of inflammation such as redness, swelling, pain, loss of function and heat. 

Strep throat treatment is mainly rest. Although the condition goes away on its own within a week, taking prescribed medicines shortens its duration. Medicines like antibiotics are often prescribed so the patient does not have to suffer strep throat symptoms for long and so the patient does not continue to spread the infection. 

6 Strep throat prevention

Prevention of strep throat involves the following:

  • Hygienic conditions - maintain a hygienic daily routine which includes washing hands, clothes and bedding with soap, detergents and warm water.
  • Cover your mouth - children should be taught to cover their mouths while they are coughing or sneezing to prevent their germs from spreading.
  • Don’t share personal belongings - Don’t share personal belongings especially drinking glasses or eating utensils.
  • Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher.

You can reduce your likelihood of catching bacteria that causes strep throat by frequent washing of hands and not sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, eating utensils, or drinking glasses.

A person infected with strep throat must cover his or her mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing to prevent spreading bacteria. Items used by the person, including laundry and dishes, should be washed in hot soapy water or dishwasher.

7 How to treat strep throat

Treating strep throat requires rest, taking prescribed medications, and precautions to prevent spreading bacteria to others. Plenty of rest enables your body to have sufficient energy to combat infection. Adults with strep throat may have to be absent at work or school for a short time. Children need to be confined at home to rest and prevent spreading bacteria to others.

Medicines are commonly used to treat strep throat because it reduces the duration of the disease. Antibiotics are often prescribed because it kills bacteria and reduces contagiousness within 24 hours after taking the first dose. Children treated with antibiotics have a quick recovery and reduced contagiousness that they might be allowed to return to school the next day.

Although strep throat usually goes away on its own without treatment, antibiotics are often given to reduce the duration of the disease and prevent the onset of complications.

It is important to finish the antibiotic course as prescribed, even though you feel okay. Discontinuing antibiotics without doctor’s orders can cause the strep throat to come back, and it may also cause the development of other more serious conditions.

Measures to avoid spreading bacteria are also important in treating strep throat. Instruct the child to cover the hands and nose with a handkerchief when sneezing or coughing. Adults should do the same as well. Make sure to wash handkerchiefs and clothes separately from the rest of the laundry. Avoid sharing eating utensils. These measures are no longer needed in a day or two after the start of treatment.

8 Home remedies for strep throat

Certain remedies often ease the discomfort and pain caused by strep throat. These remedies are very helpful, especially for children. The painful scratchy throat can be eased by drinking plenty of fluids.

Throat lozenges are also useful in easing throat discomfort, but they are not appropriate for small children as they can be choking hazards. You can also gargle a glass of warm water mixed with a tablespoon of salt.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can be given for fever, although doctors often prescribe it along with antibiotics. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are recommended, but only use them if fever is present. Do not give aspirin to anyone with strep throat, because aspirin can lead to severe complications.

In most cases, antibiotics are enough to treat strep throat but some of the following alternative remedies can be used:

  • Gargling - gargling with warm saltwater several times a day can help relieve throat pain. Mix ¼ table spoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water.
  • Humidifier - adding moisture to the air can help ease discomfort. Saline nasal sprays can also keep mucous membranes moist.  

9 Lifestyle tips for healing strep throat

Some of the following lifestyle procedures can be followed to ease some symptoms and provide better healing of strep throat:

  • Rest - get plenty of rest to provide better healing. Adequate sleep helps the body to fight infections. It is recommended to take leave from work or school and provide the body with adequate rest to fight the infection.
  • Water - drink water to keep the throat moist. This will help in easing the process of swallowing.
  • Food - eat soothing foods. Soft foods are preferred over hard food. Foods like yogurt and soft cooked eggs are good choices. Avoid spicy and acidic foods as they can worsen the condition of your throat.
  • Stay away from irritants - cigarette smoking can irritate a sore throat and it also increases the risk of tonsillitis. Avoid fumes from paint or cleaning products.

Usually after administration of antibiotics, a person heals within 48 hours. Strep throat is not a severe disease unless it progresses and you develop complications.

10 What does strep throat look like?

11 Risks and complications of strep throat

There are several risks and complications associated with strep throat.

Several factors that can increase the risk of strep throat infection are:

  • Young age - strep throat occurs most often in children due to weak immunity.
  • Time of the year - although strep throat can occur at any time, mostly it occurs in late fall and early spring. Strep throat is most common among school children, so during the school year is most likely when it is spread. 

Complications of strep throat include:

Some additional medical conditions related to strep throat are:

Such complications can affect the heart, joints, nervous system and skin. 

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