Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils. It is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15, but adults can also get it. Strep throat symptoms include sore and painful throat and sometimes fever.
If a person suspects they or their child has strep throat, they need to see a doctor. Strep throat medication mainly includes antibiotics, which help relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Complications of strep throat can include kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever.
Causes and Risk Factors of Strep Throat
The Streptococcus bacteria is the leading cause of strep throat. This bacteria spread through contact with respiratory secretions, such as saliva or mucus, from an infected person.
Contact with respiratory secretions can occur in several ways, such as:
- Coughing or sneezing
- Sharing utensils or cups
- Touching a doorknob that an infected person has touched
Several factors can increase a person’s risk for developing strep throat, such as:
- Age: Strep throat is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15, but adults are also at risk.
- Season: Strep throat is more common in the winter and spring.
- Location: Strep throat is more common in areas where there are large groups of people, such as schools, daycare centers, and barracks.
- Close contact: Being in close contact with someone who has strep throat increases the risk of developing it.
- Weakened immune system: People with a weakened immune system are more likely to get strep throat.
Strep Throat Symptoms
The most common symptom of strep throat is a sore and painful throat. Other symptoms can include:
- Red and swollen tonsils
- White patches on the tonsils
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Body aches
Strep throat is diagnosed with a rapid strep test or throat culture. A rapid strep test gives results in about 15 minutes, while a throat culture can take two to three days. If a person has symptoms of strep throat, they should see a doctor.
Strep Throat Treatment and Complications
Strep throat medication often includes antibiotics, which help relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Antibiotics are most effective when started within two days of symptoms.
People who are taking antibiotics for strep throat should:
- Finish all of their medicine, even if they start to feel better
- Stay home from work, school, or daycare until they no longer have a fever
- Avoid close contact with others to prevent spreading the infection
While antibiotics are the most effective treatment for strep throat, and a person should always see a doctor, some home remedies may help relieve symptoms while taking medication.
- Drinking lots of fluids, especially warm liquids, can help keep the throat moist and reduce pain.
- Gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat. Drinking warm tea with honey can also help.
- Eating popsicles or ice chips can help numb the pain and keep the throat moist.
- Applying a warm compress to the neck can also help reduce pain and swelling.
- Getting plenty of rest and sleep.
Strep throat left untreated may cause complications. Complications of strep throat include:
- Rheumatic fever: Rheumatic fever is the most severe complication of strep throat and can damage the heart valves.
- Kidney inflammation: Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis is another complication that can occur. This condition is an inflammation of the kidney that can lead to kidney failure. Although rare, these complications highlight the importance of seeking strep throat treatment.
- Tonsil abscesses: Pockets of infection around the tonsils.
- Sinus infections
- Ear infections
Preventing Strep Throat
There are a few things that can help prevent the spread of strep throat, such as:
- Washing hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing
- Avoiding sharing utensils or cups with others
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated with the bacteria
- Staying home from work or school if a person is sick
- Getting a yearly flu vaccine
- Practicing good overall hygiene habits