Strep Throat Symptoms in Children and Adults

What Is Strep Throat?

Picture of strep bacteria
Picture of strep bacteria

Throat infection with strep bacteria can cause a variety of symptoms associated with inflammation of the throat and its nearby structures. Symptoms usually begin within a few days (1-4 days) after exposure to the bacteria (incubation period).

With strep throat infection, the throat can become red and swollen. White patches may be visible on the back of the throat and the tonsils, suggesting the presence of pus. The presence of fever, swollen and often tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck, and white patches on the tonsils along with the absence of cough raise the suspicion for strep pharyngitis. Not all of these signs need to be present with strep tonsillopharyngitis. On the other hand, their presence is not specific only to strep throat.

What Are the Signs of Strep Throat Infection?

What Does Strep Throat Symptoms Look Like?
What Does Strep Throat Symptoms Look Like?

Typical signs of strep throat infection are:

  • fever;
  • swollen, tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck (cervical lymphadenopathy);
  • white patches seen on the tonsils and throat (tonsillar exudates).

Some other more non-specific signs and symptoms of strep throat which can also be seen in tonsillopharyngitis due to other causes are:

What Causes Strep Throat Rash?

The strep throat rash is caused by toxins released from the bacteria, and not necessarily because of the spread of infection to the skin. A strep infection accompanied by this characteristic rash is what is known as "scarlet fever." Scarlet fever can occur in about some children with a strep throat infection, and typically starts around the face and neck area and can spread to the chest, abdomen, and groin region. It has a classic description of "goose bumps on sunburned skin." The rash may start within 12 to 24 hours of the onset of fever and may last for several days. Peeling of the skin of the fingertips may accompany the rash of scarlet fever.

Other features that are more likely to be seen in tonsillopharyngitis due to viral causes include the following:

Are Strep Throat Symptoms Different in Children Compared to Adults?

Some of the general and constitutional symptoms of strep throat infection may vary quite a bit depending on the individual's age.

  • Infants primarily experience a thick "colorful" (yellow or green) drainage from the nose and possibly a low-grade fever, with fussiness, irritability, and a decrease in appetite.
  • Children aged one to three ("toddlers") may complain of a sore throat, trouble swallowing, poor appetite, crankiness, and swollen glands (lymph nodes) beneath the jaws.
  • Older children and adolescents generally look and feel awful with strep throat. They can have high fevers, very painful throats, often severe difficulty swallowing, and pus, which can sometimes be seen covering the tonsils.
  • Adults with strep throat may have milder symptoms, and in some cases the illness may be undetected. Symptoms vary; adults may also have severe pain and trouble swallowing.
Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease


Medscape. Pharyngitis, Bacterial.

Medscape. Scarlet Fever.