a doctor inspecting a patient for strep throat

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a common bacterial infection that’s frequently associated with a sore throat and other similar problems. While people of any age can develop this condition, it’s most commonly found in school-aged children, since it’s highly infectious and tspread in close quarters such as classrooms.

Here is a comprehensive overview of strep throat, including the signs and symptoms, the causes, how strep throat is diagnosed, remedies, and ways to prevent this condition.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

The most common signs of strep throat include:

  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Problems with swallowing
  • A high fever (at least 101 degrees)
  • Red spots where the roof of the mouth meets the back of the throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Occasional nausea

While these symptoms of strep throat are highly noticeable, they’re also attributed to a number of other conditions, which can make determining their cause difficult. Additionally, some people may be a carrier of strep throat without presenting any symptoms at all. This is a particularly dangerous scenario, as they can still infect others who may become sick.

There are also a number of particularly severe signs of strep throat that patients should be aware of. These include dark urine, a high fever lasting longer than two days, a skin rash, shortness of breath, and joint pain or swelling. People experiencing similar symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

Causes of Strep Throat

Strep throat is a type of infection that is caused by various strains of the streptococcus bacteria. This condition is most commonly spread through direct contact with an infected individual—something as simple as a sneeze or a cough is more than enough to move moisture droplets containing the bacteria from one person to another.

However, the infection can persist outside of the human body as well, sometimes for as long as 15 days. This means that coming into contact with items used by a sick person is another one of the causes of strep throat. Things like toothbrushes, straws, and forks are some of the most common culprits. Because of this, it’s not unusual to see family members or close friends contract the condition in rapid succession.

Diagnosis of Strep Throat

As mentioned earlier, symptoms of strep throat mimic those of other diseases, so a doctor will need to perform a strep throat test before developing a plan for treatment. Currently, there are two diagnostic tools used to look for the condition: throat cultures and rapid antigen tests.

Throat cultures are the more accurate strep throat test, and if possible, most doctors will use them. To begin with, they will take sample of saliva and other excretions by swabbing the back of the patient’s throat. This sample is then sent to a laboratory where it’s tested for strep throat bacteria. While reliable, this procedure can take several days to complete.

For quicker results, doctors may also use a rapid antigen test. This type of strep throat test can detect bacteria in only a few minutes, which means that there’s no waiting period. Unfortunately, this method is not as accurate as a traditional throat culture and sometimes provides patients with a false negative.

Treatment of Strep Throat

Luckily, there are number of effective strep throat cures available today. Most commonly, doctors will provide patients with antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection. Penicillin is the go-to treatment for strep throat, but in some cases, amoxicillin may be necessary—especially for young children who need medication in chewable form. This approach to strep throat relief is fast-acting, with most patients experiencing recovery within one to two days.

In addition to antibiotics, doctors may also recommend over-the-counter medications to help patients deal with symptoms of strep throat while their bodies fight off the infection. Drugs containing ibuprofen or acetaminophen provide pain relief and may be able to help reduce fever as well.

Finally, some people may opt to use strep throat remedies that can be found at home. Things like gargling salt water, staying rested, and using a humidifier may be able to reduce symptoms even more. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these are only remedies—not strep throat cures. Patients should still seek medical attention, even if they will be using at-home treatments.

Prevention of Strep Throat

While seeking treatment for strep throat will effectively eliminate the condition, it’s a much smarter option to try and prevent it in the first place.

One of the most effective ways at preventing it and other common bacterial infections is through the use of regular hand washing. This is especially important for people who will be coming into contact with someone who is already ill—washing hands both before and after contact is a must. Additionally, avoid sharing food, drinks, or household utensils with someone who has a confirmed case of strep throat.

Long-term strategies for preventing strep throat include maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and plenty of physical activity. Staying healthy is one of the easiest ways to keep the immune system strong.

Last Updated: May 22, 2017