The Diagnosis and Treatment of Strep Throat

The Diagnosis and Treatment of Strep Throat

Treatments for Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial disease that affects the tonsils and the throat. It is an infection characterized by inflammation of the throat that leads to a sudden and severe sore throat, and is mainly caused by a bacterium known as streptococcus, hence its name, strep throat. There are different types of streptococcus bacteria, some of which may cause illness that is more serious compared to those caused by others. Some people may think that a simple pain in the throat is always strep throat, but some sore throats are caused by viruses, not streptococcus bacteria. Nevertheless, a sore throat that results from infection by a virus can be as painful as one caused by bacteria. When you have a stuffy nose, coughing, or sneezing, you probably do not have strep throat.

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Before your heath care provider prescribes you a medication to treat strep throat, he/she should diagnose the disease by it symptoms and chemical tests. Below are the major symptoms of strep throat and its diagnostic tests.


Signs and Symptoms of Strep Throat

After initially catching the infection, the symptoms usually begin from day 1 to day 4. This means that the incubation period of strep throat is 1-4 days. The symptoms can be either mild or severe. The sore throat associated with strep throat can be described as starting from the back of the throat, with the tonsils red and inflamed. Swallowing during this time is difficult and painful. Thus, different people may have varying degrees of dehydration due to lack of adequate fluid intake.

Doctors often do not diagnose strep throat by its symptoms alone. This is because a strep throat can have similar symptoms as a sore throat caused by a virus. Sometimes, the absence or presence of some symptoms can make strep throat more likely or not.

The major signs and symptoms of strep throat are as follows:

  • Sore throat
  • Red and inflamed tonsils
  • Fever
  • Tender and swollen lymph nodes
  • White spots on the tonsils
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Discomfort, feeling ill or even uneasy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Presence of tiny spots on the soft and hard palate


How is Strep throat Diagnosed?

The best diagnosis for strep throat can be achieved through simple laboratory tests. Some health care providers choose to diagnose strep throat clinically based on the patient's symptoms. The following are some factors used to predict whether an infection is strep throat:

  • Fever
  • Age of the patient between 5-15 years
  • Red and inflamed tonsils with tonsillar exudate
  • Absence of some major symptoms of viral infection such as runny nose and cough
  • Tender and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck

However, when strep throat is suspected, practitioners will often order a lab test. The major laboratory tests used to diagnose strep throat include the following:

1.      Rapid Antigen Detection Test

The rapid antigen detection test is usually done by doctors by simply and gently swabbing the back of your throat and tonsils. The swabbing results are available in a few minutes. If the test has streptococcal bacteria, strep throat is confirmed present. You should know that a negative result for the rapid antigen test does not rule out strep throat. Rapid tests are not of high sensitivity and 5-30% tests fail to diagnose streptococcal bacteria.

2.       Throat Culture

In case the rapid antigen test gives negative results for strep throat, a throat culture is considered. A culture prepared from throat cells is sent to the laboratory for further observation. The results for this test are available in 24-48 hours after the samples are taken at a laboratory. If streptococcus bacteria grows on the medium during this time, then the result is said to be positive and a diagnosis of strep throat is completely confirmed. A throat culture is considered the best test to diagnose strep throat.

How is Strep Throat Treated?

The treatments for strep throat entails some homemade remedies which are aimed to reduce the major symptoms. They include:

  • Herbal teas
  • Enough sleep
  • Complete body hydration
  • Local antibiotics

When treating strep throat, antibiotics are very important as their absence may cause some complications such as glomerulonephritis, scarlet fever, abscess formation, toxic shock syndrome, and acute rheumatic fever.

Medications for strep throat can be grouped into either antibiotics or symptom relievers.

Symptom Relievers

These medications are aimed to reduce fever and throat pain. You can try over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, Advil, and Tylenol among others. You should always take a lot of caution when giving aspirin to infants since it is linked to Reye’s syndrome. This syndrome is very rare but is potentially life threatening in teenagers.


It is recommended that antibiotic treatment be started immediately once strep throat is diagnosed. Antibiotics are mainly used to:

  • Give comfort and speed up the recovery process
  • Prevent any other complications during treatment. This is because streptococcal bacteria can spread to other body parts causing sinusitis and abscesses just around the tonsils. The antibiotic may also prevent the infection from triggering the immune system leading to self attack.
  • Antibiotics are also used to kill the bacteria shortening the time you are contagious. You may be completely noncontagious after your first pill or capsule of antibiotic.

Examples of antibiotics available to treat strep throat are as follows:


Penicillin is an inexpensive and effective antibiotic that is administered orally for ten days, or given as a one-time intravenous injection. The latter is administered to patients who are have an intolerance for oral medications. Some derivatives of penicillin such as amoxicillin are very effective in the treatment of strep throat.


Cephalosporins are a class of antibiotics that have been found to treat strep throat very effectively. They are alternative medications to penicillin.


This is another class of antibiotics recommended for patients who are allergic to penicillin. They include:

  • Azithromycin
  • Erythromycin
  • Zithromax
  • Clarithomycin


Bottom Line

As we have already seen, strep throat can be a viral or bacterial infection causing inflammation of your throat and tonsils. At its severe stages, strep throat can be very disruptive and even dangerous. Lucky enough, strep throat can be treated through the use of simple antibiotics upon the disease's diagnosis. Antibiotics help reduce bacteria transmission, relieve the symptoms, and also prevent possible potential complications. After completed treatment with antibiotics, recurrence of this infection is very uncommon unlike for those who do not complete the antibiotic therapy. Regardless of the availability of medications for treating strep throat, preventing the infection would still be the better policy. Following are control measures you should consider:

  • Wash your hands frequently to avoid carrying streptococcal bacteria from contact with anyone infected.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. This prevents the release and spread of airborne droplets.
  • Keep all your eating utensils clean and sterile.
  • Minimize all the possible ways the infection can be spread.
  • You should not share some things such as towels, drinks, napkins, and handkerchiefs to prevent the spread of strep bacteria.
  • Currently, there is no vaccine present to prevent strep throat.