Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can make your throat feel sore and scratchy. Strep throat accounts for only a small portion of sore throats. If untreated, strep throat can cause complications, such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can lead to painful and inflamed joints, a specific type of rash, or heart valve damage.
Strep throat is most common in children, but it affects people of all ages. If you or your child has signs or symptoms of strep throat, see your doctor for prompt testing and treatment.
Strep throat is caused by infection with a bacterium known as Streptococcus pyogenes, also called group A streptococcus.
Streptococcal bacteria are contagious. They can spread through droplets when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes, or through shared food or drinks. You can also pick up the bacteria from a doorknob or other surface and transfer them to your nose, mouth or eyes. Several factors can increase your risk of strep throat infection:
- Young age. Strep throat occurs most commonly in children.
- Time of year. Although strep throat can occur anytime, it tends to circulate in winter and early spring. Strep bacteria flourish wherever groups of people are in close contact (www.mayoclinic.org).
Signs and symptoms of strep throat can include:
- Throat pain that usually comes on quickly
- Painful swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
- Tiny red spots on the area at the back of the roof of the mouth (soft or hard palate)
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes in your neck
- Nausea or vomiting, especially in younger children
- Body aches
It’s possible for you or your child to have many of these signs and symptoms but not have strep throat. The cause of these signs and symptoms could be a viral infection or some other illness. That’s why your doctor generally tests specifically for strep throat.
It’s also possible for you to be exposed to a person who carries strep but shows no symptoms (www.mayoclinic.org).
Try the following strategies to reduce your family’s risk of getting strep throat:
- Wash your hands: Hand washing serves as one of the best ways to prevent infections like strep throat. Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and scrub every part of the hand.
- Use hand sanitizer: When you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer can also help you keep germs away. Hand sanitizer often comes in travel-sized bottles that you can take anywhere.
- Avoid sharing personal items: Sharing food, drinks or eating utensils can spread strep throat bacteria even when neither person thinks they have it. Other items that go in the mouth like toothbrushes and pacifiers can also spread germs.
You can lower your or your child’s chance of getting strep throat by limiting your exposure to the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Following these tips can help you avoid spreading strep throat and other infections at any time of the year.
If you or someone you love already has strep throat, you can take steps to avoid spreading it. You can protect others by:
- Taking antibiotics: If you get a strep throat diagnosis, your doctor will likely give you antibiotics to fight the infection. Remember that strep throat’s contagious period lasts for at least 24 hours after you start taking antibiotics.
- Keeping your environment clean: Surfaces like tabletops and doorknobs can host strep throat bacteria. Regularly wipe down these areas to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Staying home from work or school: A person with strep throat stays contagious as long as they have symptoms. If you can, call in sick from work or school until you’ve taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.
- Washing your hands frequently: Keeping your hands clean will reduce the spread of strep throat bacteria. Follow the same directions as mentioned above for the best results.
Everyone has a part to play in reducing strep throat’s spread, including people who already have it (www.hamiltonhealthcenter.com).
Medications are available to cure strep throat, relieve its symptoms, and prevent its complications and spread.
Antibiotics: If your doctor diagnoses you or your child with strep throat, your doctor will likely prescribe an oral antibiotic. If taken within 48 hours of the onset of the illness, antibiotics reduce the duration and severity of symptoms, as well as the risk of complications and the likelihood that infection will spread to others.
With treatment, you or your child should start feeling better in a day or two. Call your doctor if there’s no improvement after taking antibiotics for 48 hours.
Symptom relievers: To relieve throat pain and reduce fever, try over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children (www.mayoclinic.org).
Natural remedies to help manage symptoms
In addition to getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of water, you can try the following home remedies, which are aimed at killing the bacteria that causes strep throat.
Echinacea: Echinacea is best known for its ability to help shorten and prevent the common cold, but research suggests it may also stop the spread of bacterial conditions like strep throat. Echinacea’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help relieve pain related to strep throat (www.sciencedirect.com).
Elderberry: Elderberry has antibacterial and antiviral effects and has shown to protect against the risk of upper respiratory disorders and virus- and bacteria-induced respiratory infections on flights (www.sciencedirect.com).
Raw honey: Honey can be used to soothe sore throats. Don’t give honey to children younger than 12 months (www.mayoclinic.org).
Drink warm liquids: Herbal tea for strep throat can help ease pain and treat inflammation. Chamomile tea has antioxidants that can help reduce pain, congestion, swelling, and redness, while dandelion tea may help fight infection while boosting your immune system (www.gohealthuc.com).
“Diagnosis and treatment of streptococcal pharyngitis.” American family physician 79.5 (2009): 383-390.
“Treatment of acute streptococcal pharyngitis and prevention of rheumatic fever: a statement for health professionals.” Pediatrics 96.4 (1995): 758-764.
“The diagnosis of strep throat in adults in the emergency room.” Medical Decision Making 1.3 (1981): 239-246.
Note: “Western Pharmaceutical” is defined as a system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Quote from National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov
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