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Strep Throat: What You Need to Know

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by bacteria of the streptococcal strain. There are many variations of strep throat, the most common being caused by the bacterium streptococcus pyogenes. The streptococcal bacteria causes inflammation and swelling in the mucus membranes that line the back of the throat and tonsils, and it causes pain and a scratching feeling in the throat. Strep throat is very contagious and is passed from person to person through the saliva from sharing food or drinks, coughing or sneezing.

Symptoms of strep throat

Symptoms of strep throat normally begin to occur one to four days after acquiring the infection. Symptoms do not normally include many flu-like symptoms. If you experience a runny nose, diarrhea, cough, ulcers in the mouth or redness of the eyes, it is probable that you have a viral infection as opposed to strep throat. The symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Small red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • White or yellow spots at the back of the throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Fever (normally 101F or higher)
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting, especially in younger children
  • Body aches

It is important to note that you may experience some or most of these symptoms and not have strep throat. Therefore, it is important to see your doctor if you experience these symptoms. If left untreated, strep throat may lead to scarlet fever, which is characterized by strep throat with a red rash, normally on the chest. Strep throat may be diagnosed by a rapid antigen test. Your doctor will take a swab sample from your throat. The test can detect the strep bacteria in a matter of minutes by looking for antigens in the throat. If the test is negative but your doctor still suspects you have strep throat, they may do a throat culture, which is also done by a swab. The sample is then cultured in a laboratory and the results may take as long as two days.

Treating strep throat 

If strep throat is diagnosed, your doctor will prescribe a set of oral antibiotics to reduce the duration and severity of your symptoms. The antibiotics should start relieving symptoms within 48 hours. After 24 hours of treatment, your infection will no longer be contagious you won’t have to worry about getting anyone else sick. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you are feeling better. Stopping the treatment early can lead to a recurring infection or more serious illnesses and complications such as scarlet fever, rheumatic fever or kidney infection.

You may also take over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and fever. These medications include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Consuming sources of vitamin C will also help to boost your immune system and help fight off the infection. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits such as orange and grapefruit, mangoes, pineapple, berries and melons. Many stores also offer vitamin C drink mixes to help boost the immune system during sickness.