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Strep Throat (cont.)

Treatment Overview

Antibiotics such as penicillin, cephalexin, or amoxicillin are used to treat strep throat. Antibiotics work only against bacterial infections such as strep throat. They will not help sore throats caused by allergies or viral infections such as colds.

Strep throat will go away in 3 to 7 days with or without treatment. Antibiotics are effective in relieving the symptoms of strep throat only if they are given within 48 to 72 hours after symptoms begin. But antibiotics are commonly used to treat strep throat because they:

  • Kill the bacteria and shorten the time you are contagious. You are typically no longer contagious 24 hours after starting antibiotics.
  • Prevent rare complications. Although uncommon, strep bacteria can spread to other parts of your body causing ear or sinus infections or an abscess behind or around the tonsils (peritonsillar abscess). Antibiotics may also prevent the infection from triggering your immune system to attack itself and cause serious conditions such as rheumatic fever.
  • Relieve discomfort and speed healing to some degree.

Antibiotic treatment can begin immediately if a strep infection is confirmed by a rapid strep test. But there is no harm in waiting for the results of a throat culture to confirm strep throat before starting antibiotic treatment. In fact, it is better to wait until strep throat has been confirmed so that antibiotics are not used unnecessarily. Overuse of antibiotics can make them ineffective.

Although waiting to treat strep throat may prolong the time you have the illness, delaying treatment for a few days does not increase the risk of rheumatic fever or other complications.3

Your doctor also may recommend nonprescription medicines such as acetaminophen or anesthetic throat sprays to help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by strep throat. Acetaminophen will also reduce fever.

For more information, see:

Click here to view a Decision Point.Sore Throat: Should I Take Antibiotics?
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