What You Need To Know About Strep Throat

As a parent, few experiences are more distressing than seeing your child in pain. Chances are a sore throat will occasionally be the cause of such suffering. The majority of sore throats in adults and children are viral infections that require no medication for treatment. However, between the ages of 5 and 12, there is a reasonable possibility that soreness in the throat might be a symptom of strep throat, a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils. Though easily cured, a streptococcus bacteria infection left untreated can have dire health consequences.

Mother with her sick daughter. Credit: Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

Causes and Transmission

Children can pass the strep throat virus through their saliva or nasal fluids. Credit: Attila Barabas/iStock/Getty Images

There is a lot of confusion surrounding what strep actually is. Strep throat is not a virus and is also not a general term for a sore throat. Rather, it is an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. There's also another form called strep B that plays an altogether different role in the body, but for the sake of this article we'll just focus solely on the bacteria that causes strep throat.

Strep is a contagious infection that can be passed between people via saliva and nasal fluids — typically through close contact. People of all ages can contract strep throat, however, it is most common in children ages 5 to 12. For reasons that are still unknown, it is considerably less likely for adults to get strep throat.


Strep throat is often accompanied by a high fever. Credit: BravissimoS/iStock/Getty Images

Strep is extremely unpleasant and painful. Its symptoms may include: sore throat frequently accompanied by painful swallowing; fever; swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck; general achiness; headache; nausea; and the absence of a cough. The symptoms of infants and young children up to age 3 or 4 typically look quite different and can include a thick, persistent nasal discharge and a low fever. Although there are many reasons you or your child might have these symptoms, it is extremely important to get tested to rule out the possibility of strep.


Antibiotics are often needed to cure strep throat. Credit: YesKatja/iStock/Getty Images

Antibiotics are strongly recommended for the treatment of strep. Although they are not always necessary, it is widely accepted that for most people the benefits of treating strep with antibiotics largely outweigh the risks of both short- and long-term complications. Family physician Alan Weiss, M.D., of Yale New Haven Health Systems, explains that strep throat may resolve on its own without antibiotics. However, when fighting strep, the body creates antibodies that carry a small but serious risk of attacking either the heart valves (rheumatic fever) or the kidneys (glomerulonephritis). Also, these antibodies offer no future immunity against contracting strep. Despite the risk of these complications being extremely low, their severity warrants extreme precaution. Because of this, it is vitally important to follow your doctor's instructions and complete the prescribed course of antibiotics.

In addition to protecting yourself from the risk of serious complications, antibiotics also help to curb the spread of the infection by reducing your contagiousness within approximately 24 to 48 hours of beginning treatment. Interestingly, historically established antibiotic regimens for all bacterial infections are based upon the original protocols for treating strep and have only recently been re-evaluated to assess the dosage for specific bacterial maladies.

Home Remedies

There has been no conclusive research showing any vitamins or supplements to be effective in the treatment of strep. However, if you are interested in home remedies for symptom reduction, you might consider trying a warm-water-and-salt gargle to soothe your ailing throat. In addition, Dr. Weiss recommends, "eating a nutritious diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables to support the immune system and reduce your risk of contracting strep throat." Also, according to Dr. Weiss, "it is best to abstain from vigorous exercise until your fever subsides and you feel significantly improved. Make sure to drink plenty of non-sugary fluids and get adequate rest."

When To See A Doctor

The complications associated with strep throat are uncommon in the United States but nevertheless are serious enough to warrant continued concern and treatment. If you or your child has a sore throat and a fever, make an appointment to see your doctor. A complication to look out for is an abscess on the tonsils. Signs of this include pain upon opening the mouth and asymmetric swelling on the roof of the mouth. Additionally, if symptoms do not subside or seem to be getting worse within 48 hours of beginning antibiotics, call your doctor to rule out complications as well as potential concurrent illnesses like mononucleosis.

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