Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can cause significant pain and discomfort in the throat. When left untreated, strep throat can lead to serious complications including worsened infection and the onset of inflammatory conditions. If you or your child is suffering from strep throat, seek treatment right away to reduce your symptoms and to prevent this infection from spreading to others.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and risk factors of strep throat, and about how Lompoc Valley Medical Center can help you find relief from this contagious infection.

Streptococcus

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis, is an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by the group A Streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat feels highly similar to a sore throat but is often significantly more painful. Anyone can get strep throat, though this infection tends to be more prevalent in children. Strep throat affects up to 3 in 10 children with a sore throat, and 1 in 10 adults with a sore throat.

What Are Symptoms of Strep Throat?

The symptoms of strep throat are similar to those of an ordinary sore throat but maybe more painful. A sore throat that comes on suddenly without a cough or runny nose is usually diagnosed as strep throat.

Common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Sore throat that comes on quickly
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty with swallowing or breathing
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Ear infection
  • Swollen lymph nodes on the neck
  • Red and swollen tonsils that may have white patches or streaks of pus
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth (petechiae)
  • Rash (scarlet fever)
  • Body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting

Strep throat shares the same symptoms as many other illnesses; therefore, it’s important to visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis if you think you may have strep throat. See your doctor as soon as possible if your symptoms last longer than 48 hours, or if your sore throat is accompanied by a fever, rash, or difficulty breathing and/or swallowing.

What Are Causes and Risk Factors of Strep Throat?

Strep throat is spread mainly through airborne droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or shares utensils, foods, and drinks. Strep bacteria can also be transferred from contaminated surfaces to your mouth, nose, and eyes. Not all people who are infected with strep bacteria will exhibit symptoms or feel sick.

The main risk factors of strep throat are young age and time of year. Strep throat is more common in children than in adults and tends to occur more frequently during the winter and early spring seasons.

Many cases of strep throat resolve on their own within 3 to 7 days. However, strep throat can lead to serious complications if it is left untreated and does not go away. 

Strep bacteria can spread to other parts of the body to cause infection in your sinuses, tonsils, middle ear, skin, and bloodstream. Strep infection can potentially cause inflammatory conditions including kidney disease, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and arthritis. The best way to reduce your risk for strep-related complications is to see your doctor the moment you notice symptoms.

How Is Strep Throat Diagnosed?

Strep throat can be diagnosed during a physical exam with your doctor and with either a throat culture or rapid antigen test. 

During a throat culture, your doctor uses a cotton swab to collect a fluid sample from the back of your throat and tonsils. A throat culture may cause minor discomfort and gagging, but is not usually painful. Lab results from your throat culture usually come back within two days. A rapid antigen test also involves a throat culture but detects results within 10 to 20 minutes as opposed to a few days. 

handful of antibiotics

How Can Strep Throat Be Treated?

Strep throat can be effectively treated with medications and plenty of rest. 

Antibiotics (primarily penicillin and amoxicillin) are the most common treatment for strep throat and can reduce symptoms within 48 hours. Taking antibiotics within two days of getting strep throat can reduce the severity of your symptoms and the amount of time you stay sick, as well as the risk of complications from strep. This is why it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing signs of strep throat. Antibiotics may not be given to people who test positive for strep throat and who do not experience any symptoms.

Strep throat may also be treated using one or more medicines that treat specific symptoms, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and throat pain. Your doctor can advise you of the best medicines to take for strep throat as an alternative to antibiotics.

In addition to getting plenty of rest while recovering from strep throat, drink plenty of water to prevent hydration and to keep the throat lubricated. Eat soft foods or liquids that are easy to swallow and won’t irritate the throat lining, such as soups, mashed potatoes, and applesauce. Gargle with warm salt water several times per day to soothe swollen, inflamed throat tissue, and spend time in a room with a humidifier to prevent throat dryness.

Can Strep Throat Be Prevented?

hand latering up

Strep throat cannot always be prevented, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. 

Wash your hands regularly to remove germs and bacteria. This can reduce the risk of infection given how strep bacteria can be transferred from your fingers and hands to your mouth, nose, and eyes. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and encourage your children to do the same if they are infected with strep bacteria. Lastly, avoid sharing personal items such as utensils, plates, and drinking glasses, as this may result in the transferring of strep bacteria.

Where to Find Quality Treatment For Strep Throat

Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of medical providers who are trained and experienced in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of strep throat and a wide range of other illnesses. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment today.