Strep throat shares many symptoms with sore throat, but knowing the difference between these two illnesses can reduce the risk for serious complications.
Strep throat is extremely common in the U.S., where it causes an estimated 5.2 million outpatient doctors’ visits every year, says the CDC. This bacterial infection is highly contagious and feels similar to a viral sore throat that occurs with the common cold. However, strep throat can lead to more serious complications when it is not treated, such as kidney inflammation.
Knowing whether or not you have strep throat can make it easier to determine whether you should seek treatment right away or let it pass with your other cold symptoms.
Here are the symptoms and causes of strep throat and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center when you’re ready to seek treatment for this infection.
What Is Strep Throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus, or group A strep. This infection affects your throat and tonsils. If you have strep throat, you can spread it to someone else when you talk, sneeze, or cough. It can also spread if you allow an open skin sore to touch someone else.
Strep throat usually doesn’t cause symptoms until two to five days after you have contracted the infection. You can get it if you touch something that has droplets on it from someone with strep, then touch your nose or mouth. You can also get it if you share drinking cups and eating utensils with an infected person.
According to the CDC, strep throat is far more common in children than adults. Schools and daycares are the most common sources of strep throat for children.
Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat: What’s the Difference?
It can be easy to confuse strep throat with a sore throat. Both illnesses can cause severe pain and discomfort in the throat, making it difficult to talk, swallow, and eat. However, knowing the difference between strep throat and a sore throat can reduce your risk for serious complications.
A sore throat is a common symptom of the common cold. It can be caused by viral infections, such as the flu. Sore throat is not a bacterial infection and therefore does not respond to antibiotics. In addition to being caused by viral infections, it can be caused by allergens or breathing in dry air while you sleep.
Strep throat is much more serious than a sore throat and is a bacterial infection. It can usually be effectively treated with antibiotics.
What Are Symptoms Of a Sore Throat?
A sore throat will usually be accompanied by other symptoms of a cold or viral infection. Symptoms that typically co-occur with a sore throat include:
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen glands on the neck
- Ear infection
- Mild to moderate fever
- Swollen, scratchy throat
- Hoarse or raspy voice
What Are Symptoms Of Strep Throat?
Strep throat shares some symptoms with a sore throat, plus other symptoms that are often far more severe. Symptoms of strep throat include:
- Pain when swallowing
- Fever of 101 degrees F and higher
- Red and swollen tonsils
- White patches on the tonsils or back of the throat
- Throat soreness without cough and cold symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swollen glands on the neck
- Ear infection
- Tiny red spots at the back of the roof of the mouth
- Body aches
What Are Obvious Signs I Have Strep Throat?
Throat pain and fever without a cough are the most common signs and symptoms of strep throat, says the CDC. You most likely have strep throat if you have a sore throat without cough and other symptoms of the common cold. The CDC adds that children with strep throat may also experience headache, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
The University of Utah reports that four obvious or tell-tale signs indicate you have strep throat. These signs are:
- Sore throat without a cough.
- Swollen glands, or lymph nodes on the neck that feel swollen and that hurt.
- White streaks or patches on the tonsils.
The best way to tell if you have strep throat is to make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can examine your throat and the inside of your mouth and order one or more diagnostic tests.
Diagnostic tests for strep throat include a throat culture, a rapid antigen test, or a molecular test. All these tests involve taking a sample of fluids from your throat using a swab.
What’s the Best Way To Treat Strep Throat?
Antibiotics are usually the primary treatment for strep throat. Oral antibiotics can often destroy the bacteria causing your infection. In most cases, your symptoms will improve, and you can recover within two days of starting antibiotics. However, antibiotics are most effective when taken within 48 hours after your illness begins. This is why it’s vital to see your doctor right away if you think you might have strep throat.
Another way to treat strep throat is to take over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that treat specific symptoms. For instance, you can take an OTC pain reliever like ibuprofen to reduce fever, headache, and throat pain.
Here are other things you can do on your own to treat strep throat:
- Get plenty of sleep and rest. Sleep will help your body heal and recover.
- Drink lots of water. Water can help your throat stay lubricated. It will also help you avoid dehydration, especially if you are vomiting.
- Eat foods that soothe your throat. Yogurt, applesauce, and mashed potatoes are examples of foods that are soft and that may not irritate your throat when you have strep. Avoid eating spicy or acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus fruits, which can increase irritation. Some people find that avoiding dairy products like cow’s milk and cheese can also reduce throat irritation related to strep.
- Eat honey. Honey is a natural antibacterial agent that can help soothe symptoms of strep. Eat a spoonful of honey, or add it to warm oatmeal or herbal tea.
- Drink herbal tea. Licorice root, chamomile, and turmeric are some of the many herbal teas that can reduce symptoms of strep. Talk to your doctor before drinking any of these teas. Some herbs can interfere with medications and are not recommended during pregnancy or while nursing.
- Gargle with warm salt water. Warm salt water can help reduce inflammation in the mouth and throat. Gargle the solution for about 30 seconds before spitting it out.
- Use a humidifier. A humidifier adds moisture back into the air and can keep your throat moist. Try placing the humidifier in your bedroom to avoid waking up with a dry, scratchy throat.
How Can I Avoid Getting Or Spreading Strep Throat In the Future?
You can reduce your risk for strep throat by taking steps to avoid exposure to this infection. If you have strep, there are things you can do to avoid spreading it to others. These steps include:
- Spending about 20 seconds washing your hands using soap and clean water.
- Sneezing or coughing into your elbow or a tissue instead of your hands. Sneezing or coughing into your hands can transfer strep bacteria onto your hands, and increases the risk of transmission.
- Using alcohol-based sanitizers when soap and clean water are not available.
- Putting your tissues and napkins directly into the trash when finished.
- Not sharing cups, plates, and eating utensils with others. This allows droplets that contain strep to easily transfer from one person to another.
- Washing your cups, plates, and utensils immediately after use. This helps reduce the transmission of strep.
- Strengthening your immune system. Having a strong immune system can reduce your risk of getting infections like strep. Exercising regularly and eating healthy foods are some of the many things you can do to strengthen your immune system.
- Taking probiotics that contain Streptococcus salivarius K12. This particular strain of “good” bacteria has been found to destroy and prevent the bacteria that causes strep throat, according to a 2014 study published in Drug, Healthcare, and Patient Safety. Look for S. salivarius K12 in probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and tempeh. You can also buy probiotic supplements that contain S. salivarius K12.
When To See a Doctor
Strep throat should always be treated as quickly as possible. Addressing it quickly can prevent it from progressing into complications like scarlet fever and kidney inflammation. Here are signs you should see your doctor right away:
- You have a fever.
- Your sore throat has lasted for longer than 48 hours.
- You have a sore throat plus a rash.
- You have a sore throat plus tender and swollen glands in the neck.
- You are having problems with breathing or swallowing.
- You have been taking antibiotics to treat strep throat and your symptoms have not improved after 48 hours.
Strep Throat Treatment At Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified physicians who can diagnose a wide range of medical conditions, including strep throat. If you have strep throat, we can treat it promptly to reduce your risk for serious complications related to this infection. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.