Strep Throat

Definition

Strep throat is a type throat infection that causes sore throat. Although the term is commonly used, very few sore throats are strep throat.

Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
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Causes

Strep throat is caused by a specific bacteria. The bacteria enter through inhaled air droplets and grow in the throat causing the infection and symptoms.

The strep bacteria is spread by airborne droplets, most often from coughs or sneezes of infected people or touching a contaminated surface then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Risk Factors

Strep throat is more common in winter or early spring in temperate climates and in school-aged children. Other factors that increase the risk of stroke include:

  • Exposure to family member or friend who has strep throat
  • Crowded living situations

Symptoms

Symptoms of strep throat may include:

  • Red, sore throat with white patches
  • Headache
  • Swollen, sore glands in the neck
  • Fever
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Painful, difficult swallowing
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and possibly vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches, especially in the neck, and abdominal pains, especially in younger children
  • Swelling in back of mouth

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests to confirm strep throat may be used and include:

  • Throat culture—A sample of throat fluid is taken to a lab to see if strep bacteria grows. It takes a few days to gets results.
  • Rapid antigen strep screen—Antigens are a part of the body's immune response to specific infection. This test can identify antigens within a few minutes of the test. However, a negative test does not mean you do not have strep throat, the body may not have had enough time to make antigens yet.
  • Rapid DNA test—DNA technology is used to detect strep throat. This test is as accurate as throat culture. The results are usually available in one day.

Only a rapid DNA test or throat culture can confidently distinguish strep throat from throat infections caused by a virus. Doctors will often make a diagnosis and decide about treatment based on symptoms, physical findings, and test results.

Treatment

Most sore throats, including strep throat, will get better on its own in 7-10 days. However, strep throat can improve faster with antibiotics than without.

Antibiotic Medications

Antibiotics are typically given to stop the spread of the infection and to prevent the complications such as rheumatic fever. Antibiotics may be given as a pill or a shot. Symptoms will often fade in the first few days of medication but it is important to take all of the antibiotics as prescribed.

Misuse of antibiotics has made strep throat resistant to bacteria in many communities.

Serious complications of untreated or undertreated strep throat include:

Over-the-Counter Pain Medications

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve sore throat and muscle aches and pains.

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye's syndrome . Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.

If your are diagnosed with strep throat, follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention

To reduce your chances of getting strep throat:

  • Wash your hands carefully.
  • Don't share beverages or food.
  • Replace your toothbrush after starting antibiotic treatment to prevent re-infecting yourself

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2013 -
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013 -
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