Strep throat is an infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria. It affects the throat and tonsils, leading to symptoms such as sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and sometimes white patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils. This highly contagious infection is most common in children, but can also spread to adults.
Strep throat is caused by a type of bacteria called Group A Streptococcus. These bacteria can spread through tiny droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Strep throat is generally a mild disease, but it can be uncomfortable and very painful. Symptoms of strep throat can include:
Pain in the throat, which usually starts suddenly
Pain when swallowing
Red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth
Swollen, red tonsils
Streaks of pus or patches of white on the tonsils
Swelling and tenderness of lymph nodes
Nausea or vomiting
Some people with strep throat can have no symptoms. They are called carriers because they can spread, or “carry,” the illness to other people without showing symptoms.
Many strep throat symptoms overlap with other illnesses and infections, so a test is necessary to determine if you have it.
The most common test for diagnosing strep throat is a rapid strep test. This test starts with swabbing the back of your throat to collect a sample. The results are available within minutes.
In some cases, especially if the rapid strep test is negative but symptoms strongly suggest strep throat, a throat culture may be done. During a throat culture, the collected sample is cultured (allowed to grow) in a laboratory dish over a day or two to see if streptococcal bacteria develop.
It is possible to have strep throat without a fever. It is also possible to have only a few symptoms or no symptoms at all. People without symptoms can still spread strep throat to other people.
Coughing is not one of the symptoms of strep throat. If you have a sore throat with a cough, it’s more likely that you have a viral infection.
A sore throat is one of the most common symptoms of strep throat. However, not all sore throats are strep throat. In fact, most sore throats are caused by viruses (unlike strep throat, which is caused by bacteria).
A strep test is important because it informs your medical professional whether antibiotics should be used. Antibiotics can help eliminate the bacteria that cause strep throat, but they aren’t effective on viruses.
The fastest way to cure strep throat is with antibiotics. Once you start taking them, you can expect your symptoms to improve in 1-2 days and mostly disappear in 7-10 days. Even if you’re feeling better, it’s important to take your full course of antibiotics.
In some cases, strep throat can clear up on its own. However, professional treatment is highly recommended. Antibiotics will help heal the infection faster, make you less contagious, and prevent serious complications
Without treatment, you can remain contagious with strep throat for up to a month. If you take antibiotics, on the other hand, you can safely resume your regular activities after 12-24 hours if you don’t have a fever.
Complications from strep throat are uncommon, but are more likely if you haven’t received treatment.
Strep throat complications can include:
Infections of the sinuses or the ears
Pus-filled abscesses around the tonsils or in the neck
It's important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Delaying medical guidance may lead to a longer recovery time and complications.
If you have symptoms of strep throat, it’s recommended that you talk to a medical professional. With timely, compassionate treatment, you can get back to feeling your best. Find a clinic near you or speak with a provider online today at WellNow Urgent Care.
This medical information has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Robert Birenbaum, Chief Medical Officer for WellNow Urgent Care.
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