What is strep throat?
“Sore throat” is a fairly common condition that most people experience a few times each year, where the throat feels scratchy, itchy and maybe even painful.
Strep throat is a specific type of sore throat that occurs as a result of a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. It can affect people of all ages, but is more common in children between the age of five and 15.
Common cold vs strep throat
Viruses that cause common colds often cause sore throats as part of their symptoms. These viral sore throats are often accompanied with cold symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and coughs.
However, since strep throat is caused by bacteria rather than viruses, the symptoms and treatment will be different for these two conditions — hence it is important to obtain a correct diagnosis before embarking on treatment.
Some differences in symptoms include the way in which the sore throat develops. A sore throat caused by viruses usually develops gradually and disappears on its own within a few days. However, a sore throat caused by strep throat may occur suddenly, and is usually more acutely painful and may persist for several days without going away.
Tonsillitis vs strep throat
Strep throat and tonsillitis share similar symptoms, so they may be hard to tell apart. The key difference is that tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils, while strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. Strep throat is caused by a specific strain of bacteria, while tonsillitis may be caused by bacteria or viruses.
A person may end up suffering from both tonsillitis and strep throat at the same time, in the case that the group A Streptococcus bacteria that causes strep throat ends up infecting the tonsils as well.
For those suffering from a severe throat infection, do consult your doctor to determine the cause and correct treatment for your condition.
Strep throat symptoms
Common strep throat symptoms include:
- A painful sore throat that starts suddenly
- Pain when swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils
- Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
One indication that you might have strep throat is if you have a painful sore throat and fever without coughing symptoms.
Other symptoms may include headaches, nausea or vomiting — occasionally, patients may even develop scarlet fever, in which a bright red rash covers the body.
Strep throat risk factors
People of all age groups can get strep throat. However, children and adolescents are at increased risk of developing strep throat — this could be due to the fact that their immune systems have not been exposed to as many viruses and bacteria as older individuals.
Since strep throat is an infectious condition that can spread easily in households and classrooms, adults may be at higher risk of strep throat if they are in constant, close contact with children, such as parents of schooling children or teachers.
Is strep throat contagious?
Strep throat is a contagious illness that can spread easily from person to person. Since group A Streptococcus bacteria lives in the nose and throat of an infected person, the bacteria may be spread through coughing or sneezing.
Some infected people may only be carriers and not exhibit symptoms themselves.
Diagnosing strep throat
Strep throat can’t be diagnosed from a physical examination — the only way to properly diagnose strep throat is through a rapid strep test or throat culture.
Both of these tests involve a throat swab, during which a sterile swab will be swiped along the back of the throat. A rapid strep test produces fast results within several minutes, though it is less accurate compared to a throat culture, whereby the sample is sent to the lab for testing.
Even though the results take more time, a throat culture may be ordered for young children and adolescents as they may develop complications such as rheumatic fever from an untreated strep throat infection. A throat culture can also weed out the cause of the infection in the case that a rapid strep test shows up negative.
Strep throat treatment
If the doctor determines that you have strep throat, they will usually prescribe antibiotics such as penicillin or amoxicillin (or other antibiotics if you have a penicillin allergy( to treat the infection. Antibiotics help to decrease the duration of the infection, decrease strep throat symptoms and lowers the risk of the illness being spread to others.
Home remedies for strep throat
Beyond taking antibiotics, there are some things you can do to reduce your symptoms and make your recovery more comfortable.
Your throat may be quite sensitive during the recovery period, so avoid food and drinks that are hot as they may irritate your throat. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids during this period.
Cold drinks, cold foods and sucking on ice cues may help relieve the throat pain temporarily, while sipping on warm drinks may help soothe the throat as well. You can also try gargling with warm salted water to relieve your sore throat.
How to prevent strep throat
Since strep throat is a contagious illness that is spread through respiratory droplets via sneezing or coughing, the best way to prevent an outbreak of infections is to maintain good hygiene. This includes:
- Using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Throwing your used tissue away and washing your hands right after
- If you don’t have tissue on hand, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, rather than into your hands
- Wash your hands thoroughly often with anti-bacterial soap and water
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not on hand
- Don’t share used glasses and utensils, particularly with someone who is showing symptoms of a sore throat or fever.
Beyond hygiene, having a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help to keep your immune system strong and prevent illnesses, along with regular exercise.
When should I see a doctor for strep throat?
If you suspect you have strep throat, do see a doctor immediately as strep throat will need to be eliminated via antibiotics. If strep throat goes untreated or a patient fails to complete their course of antibiotics, they may develop rheumatic fever, which affects the heart, joints and brain and skin.
How long does a strep throat last?
Though uncomfortable, most strep throat infections are usually mild, with most patients improving within 24 hours of starting their course of antibiotics. Symptoms usually go away within 5 days from the onset of symptoms.
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This article was first published in Homage.