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Common Sore Throat or Strep Throat?
There are many reasons for a sore throat. Allergies, postnasal drip, colds, the flu, and bacterial infections all cause a painful throat. There are some symptoms, however, that make it more likely that you have strep throat, and need to be seen by a doctor.
Do You See Unusual Spots?
A hallmark of strep throat is a red, raw-looking throat with swollen tonsils that often have visible white pus pockets. Dark red splotches or spots on the areas around the tonsils or the top of the mouth are also indicative of strep throat.
Are There Cold Symptoms?
If you have associated cold symptoms, such as runny nose, sinus congestion, postnasal drip, scratchy throat with loss of voice (laryngitis), and cough, usually this indicates a viral source of your sore throat, rather than strep throat.
Is There a High Fever?
Unfortunately a strep throat may be associated with a high or low fever. But a sore throat with a fever over 101 F (38.3° C) usually indicates a strep infection.
Are There Swollen Lymph Nodes?
Swollen glands (or lymph nodes) under the chin and the front of the neck may be a reaction to any infection in the body, and is not specific to strep throat. Swollen lymph nodes may be present with any infection of the nose, sinuses, ears, or throat.
How Painful Is It?
An infection caused by strep throat is often characterized as being very painful. You may have difficulty swallowing your own saliva. The pain from a sore throat caused by strep tends to be more severe, and lasts longer than a sore throat caused by a cold.
Has a Rash Developed?
If your sore throat is associated with a fine, sandpaper-like pink rash on the skin, it could be scarlet fever, which is definitely associated with the bacteria that cause strep throat. If this occurs you should see a doctor immediately. Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics.
Strep Is a Bacterial Infection
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, or are side effects of infections in other parts of the nose or sinuses. Strep is a bacterial infection caused by the Group A Streptococcus bacterium. It is important to determine if your infection is caused by strep, as antibiotics are prescribed to decrease the chance of complications.
Don't Take Antibiotics for Your Cold
Antibiotics do not treat sore throats caused by the common cold. The common cold is caused by a virus, and antibiotics will not help. Overuse of antibiotics can cause microbial resistance, and lead to "superbugs" that are resistant to standard medications.
Rapid Strep Test
The rapid strep test is performed to determine if strep is the cause of your sore throat. The doctor takes a quick swab of your throat, that in most cases can determine if the strep bacteria is present. The rapid strep test is often used with a throat culture to confirm the diagnosis of strep throat.
Antibiotics for Strep Throat
If your doctor diagnoses you with strep throat, you will be prescribed antibiotics or given an antibiotic shot. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you feel better before they are finished, so the bacteria does not reoccur. Strep is still contagious even if you are taking antibiotics, so wash your hands frequently, don't share food or utensils, and throw away your toothbrush when your strep infection has resolved.
Caring for Sore Throats at Home
Some home remedies for relieving the pain of sore throats include warm saltwater gargles, over-the-counter throat lozenges, throat sprays, and tea with honey. Remedies are aimed at keeping the throat moist, and symptom relief.
Humidifier or Vaporizer
Keeping the throat moist can help reduce the pain from a sore throat. Use a humidifier or vaporizer, or lean over a sink with hot running water (drape a towel over your head and inhale).
Keeping the throat warm may help soothe tender lymph nodes. Use a warm compress on your neck to help relieve the pain.
Soft, cool foods such as ice cream, milkshakes, gelatin, and pudding are good choices to eat when you have a sore throat. The coolness of the food soothes the pain, and soft foods are easy to swallow past the inflamed areas.
It is important to stay hydrated when your body is fighting an infection. Drink plenty of water. Use a straw to sip water or other fluids to make it easier for the fluid to go down the middle of the throat. Avoid citrus juices or alcoholic beverages when fighting an infection.
To help relieve the pain of a sore throat, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve) may be used. Children and teens should not be given aspirin due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, which can be fatal.
Sore Throat Sprays and Lozenges
Over-the-counter numbing sprays or lozenges are helpful to relieve the pain of sore throats. Anesthetic, cooling, anti-inflammatory, or antiseptic agents are ingredients in some of these products, and may provide additional relief of sore throat symptoms.
If postnasal drip is the cause of irritation in your throat, decongestant sprays or pills may help relieve congestion and some symptoms of sore throat pain. Be sure to use these products as directed, and consult your doctor before taking decongestants if you are taking other medications.
Persistent Sore Throat
A sore throat that does not respond to initial medical treatment may be a sign of another cause. A persistent sore throat may be a sign of mononucleosis, a sexually transmitted disease, tumors in the throat, meningitis, or acid reflux. See your doctor if you have been treated for strep throat and it has not improved or resolved within three to four days.
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