What Is Strep Throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial throat infection marked by a soreness, redness, and painful swallowing. The medical term for this condition is streptococcal pharyngitis. It can strike people at any age but is most common in children. Strep throat is highly contagious, meaning that it is easily passed from one person to the next. Though strep throat is treatable and not considered a high-risk disease, it can, under certain circumstances, result in medical complications that pose a threat to health.
If you or your child are suffering from a sore throat, go to your nearest Baptist Health Urgent Care location. Our providers can determine whether you have strep throat, and recommend the best course of action to deal with it.
What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat?
The following symptoms characterize strep throat:
- Rapid-onset throat pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes streaked white
- Little red spots on the roof of the mouth called petechiae
- Swollen lymph nodes
More serious cases of strep throat may also be marked by headaches, fever, nausea, achiness, and rashes.
What Causes Strep Throat?
Most throat infections are viral in nature; strep throat is an exception. It is a caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pyogenes or group A strep.
Group A strep lives in the nose and throat, and is therefore transmittable by normal respiratory behaviors such as breathing, coughing, and sneezing. You can also develop strep throat by sharing towels, napkins, glasses, plates, or utensils with someone carrying the pathogen. It is important to note that not everyone who has group A strep will exhibit strep throat symptoms.
How Is Strep Throat Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of strep throat typically involves these steps:
- Physical exam: Your physician will conduct an exam of your throat and lymph glands, looking for evidence of inflammation, tenderness, and other signs of infection. He or she will also ask questions about the onset of your condition, and whether you’re experiencing non-visible symptoms, such as headaches and nausea.
- Rapid antigen test: This test is a quick means for your physician to determine whether you have a group A strep infection. He or she will use a sterile swab to collect a sample of fluid from your throat, which can be analyzed in a matter of minutes on site. If antigens are present in the sample, then it is likely that the strep throat bacterium has infected your throat.
- Throat culture: Throat cultures offer a greater degree of certainty than the rapid antigen test. Your physician will use a sterile swab to collect a throat sample, which is sent to a lab for analysis. Test results are usually available within two days.
How Is Strep Throat Treated?
Strep throat is treated with oral antibiotics, which kill the streptococcal bacteria. Your physician will likely prescribe a ten-day course of treatment. Be sure to continue taking this medication even after symptoms improve, to completely eliminate the infection.
There are several additional things you can do to relieve strep throat symptoms, while you’re waiting for the antibiotic to take effect:
- Take over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin (the latter being limited to persons 16 years or older)
- Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges, if age four years or older
- Gargle a salt-and-warm-water mix (one quarter-teaspoon salt to eight fluid ounces)
- Drink warm liquids, broth or tea
- Children might prefer something cold, such as a popsicle
What Are the Complications of Strep Throat?
If not properly treated, strep throat can develop into several other medical conditions, some of them quite serious:
- Sinus infection
- Ear infection
- Mastoiditis, an infection of a large bone at the bottom of the skull
- Scarlet fever, named for bright red rashes that appear on the body
- Guttate psoriasis, an eruption of teardrop-shaped lesions on the skin
- Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that affects the skin, joints, and heart
- Peritonsillar abscess or quinsy, a pus infection behind the tonsils
- Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis, a kidney disorder
When Should I See a Doctor?
See your physician, if you exhibit any of these symptoms or conditions while dealing with a strep infection:
- Sore or swollen lymph glands
- Difficulty breathing
- No improvement in your health after taking an antibiotic for at least two days
How Do I Prevent Strep Throat?
You can prevent the spread of strep throat by:
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Washing your hands with soap, warm water, and antibacterial sanitizers
- Not sharing personal items, such as glasses, dishes, forks, spoons, and knives with others
- Since young people are most at risk for strep throat, insist that your children exhibit these behaviors.
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