What is strep throat? It is a sore, itchy throat accompanied by red tonsils with white lesions in the back of the throat. Strep throat is an infection caused by group A streptococcus bacteria. The bacterial infection is most common in young kids, especially during the winter and early spring when people mingle in close contact. The condition is highly contagious.
What Causes Strep Throat?
Is strep throat contagious? It is. You get it by being in close contact with others who have the illness. Breathing in air droplets containing the bacteria can transmit the infection. So can sharing food or drink with someone who is sick. The bacteria is so hardy, it's possible to get strep throat by touching a doorknob or other contaminated items and then touching your mouth or nose.
Strep Throat Symptoms
Strep throat symptoms start suddenly with red, swollen tonsils that make it hurt when you swallow. The sore throat tends to come on suddenly and your tonsils may have white areas containing pus. You may also have a fever, headache, and body aches. The lymph nodes in your neck may also be tender and swollen.
In addition to white patches on the tonsils, you may have red dots in the back of your throat or on the roof of your mouth. You may develop a rash. Some people have strep throat but don't experience any symptoms. These so-called "asymptomatic carriers" can still transmit strep to others.
Small children who have strep throat may experience nausea and vomiting, although adults with the condition can have these symptoms as well.
How Do You Know If You Have Strep Throat?
The doctor will determine if you have strep throat by conducting a physical exam and asking about any symptoms and signs you are experiencing. The doctor may use one of two tests to confirm the presence of strep. The so-called rapid strep test is a swab test that can detect strep bacteria antigens in just a few minutes. A throat culture involves analyzing a swab taken from the back of the throat. Technicians culture the material in a lab to see if strep bacteria is present. This test may take up to two days to get results.
Strep Throat Treatment
The treatment for strep is antibiotics. If you are diagnosed and begin taking antibiotics within 48 hours of getting sick, the antibiotics can help reduce the course of your illness and decrease the severity of your symptoms. Antibiotics also decrease the risk that the infection will get worse or that you will have complications.
Which antibiotics do you take for strep throat? That's up to your doctor who will most likely prescribe a 10-day course. You will start to feel better within a few days of starting antibiotics. If you don't, or symptoms worsen, let your doctor know. Your doctor may advise that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprophen or acetaminophen, to reduce throat pain and fever. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
Always take antibiotics as directed by your doctor. Finish the course and do not skip doses. Stopping antibiotics too early or skipping doses may make your symptoms return.
Home Remedies for Strep Throat
There are a lot of things you can do for yourself at home to feel better when you have strep throat. Rest a lot so your body can fight the infection. Stay home from work or school to avoid infecting others. Ask your doctor how long you or your child are contagious. Drink lots of fluids to stay well hydrated. This helps your throat stay moist and makes it easier to swallow. If your throat hurts, reach for popsicles or ice to numb the area and soothe pain.
As for your diet, eat foods that are easy to swallow like soup, mashed potatoes, bananas, yogurt, and eggs. Applesauce and oatmeal are good choices, too. Puree cooked veggies in your blender to make them easier to eat. Avoid foods and drinks that may sting your throat including spicy foods and acidic things like orange juice.
Another great strep throat remedy is to gargle with salt water. You can do this several times a day to decrease pain. Just make sure to spit it out. Too much salt isn't good for you. Dissolve ¼ teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water.
Use a humidifier to keep your throat moist. A cool-mist version is best. Clean and disinfect it daily to reduce the risk of mold growth. Saline nasal spray may help soothe symptoms, too.
You can harbor strep bacteria in your throat, but it doesn't always make you sick. If this applies to you or your child, you are a strep carrier. People who are asymptomatic strep carriers are less contagious to others than symptomatic carriers. Asymptomatic carriers may or may not be treated with antibiotics. They may still test positive for strep after being treated with antibiotics. Sometimes asymptomatic carriers who are sick with a sore throat caused by a virus may also test positive for strep.
Prevent Strep Throat
Use common-sense rules to help prevent the transmission of strep throat. Wash your hands well with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Rub fingers, palms, the back of your hands, and your thumbs. Make sure to get all of the surfaces of your hands and rinse well. This helps prevent the transmission of illnesses, including strep throat.
Wash dishes and utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water. Don't share food, drinks, and towels with others. Cover your sneeze or cough to prevent droplets from your nose and mouth from becoming airborne.
Strep Risk Factors
Strep throat is so contagious that anyone can get it if they become exposed to it. Strep is most common in school-aged children, especially during the winter and early spring. Strep tends to be contagious when people are congregating in groups, such as in classrooms and daycare centers.
Strep throat is a minor illness, but it sometimes leads to more serious conditions. Potential complications of strep throat include infections of the tonsils, skin, middle ear, blood, or sinuses. Strep throat may sometimes lead to serious inflammatory conditions that affect the kidneys and joints. Strep infection is linked to scarlet fever, which produces a characteristic red rash. It may also lead to rheumatic fever, which may affect the heart, nervous system, joints, or skin.
Strep throat may be linked to pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with group A streptococci (PANDAS). Children with this condition may exhibit obsessive-compulsive disorder or tics that become worse after having strep throat.