If you have ever had strep throat, you probably remember the experience as one of the worst sore throats of your life. Strep throat is an infection in your throat, and the cause is the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes which is Group A Streptococcus, not viral. Unlike most sore throats, which are viral infections, symptoms of strep throat are more severe. Diagnosis must be made by a physician, and treatment requires prescription antibiotics.
What does it Look Like?
Symptoms: Strep Throat vs Sore Throat vs Colds vs Flu
Symptoms of strep throat usually include: a sore throat that feels scratchy, difficulty or painful swallowing, red or swollen tonsils, white patches in the back of your throat, small red spots on the roof of your mouth, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, headache, fever, fatigue, rash, stomach ache and vomiting.
Many of the symptoms also are present in viral throat infections also. However, if you have strep throat, you will need treatment with antibiotics, and this requires a visit to a doctor’s office or walk-in clinic.
THE KEY SYMPTOMS CHART:
Listed are the most common key symptoms for each condition. Look for symptom clusters, a group of symptoms, because no one symptom is conclusive.
|Red throat with white or yellow patches on the tongue or tonsils||Headache – generally severe||Runny nose||*Inability to breathe through the mouth or nose (more than congestion)|
|Enlarged tonsils, which are also very red||Fever – usually high, over 101 for 2-4 days||Nasal congestion||*Swelling around the mouth or throat that blocks the throat passages|
|Pus present on the tonsils (pus sometimes drains)||Extreme fatigue – early and prominent and lasting 2 weeks or more||Sneezing||Red, raw scratchy throat|
|Grey or white covering on the tonsils||Muscle and joint aches – usually severe||No symptoms of strep|
|Tender, swollen lymph glands on the sides of the neck||Dry cough – tickly, dry and unproductive. Sometimes severe|
|Chest discomfort – often|
A throat culture is the test that will confirm a diagnosis of strep throat. This involves obtaining a secretion by rubbing a sterile swab over the back of your throat. However the waiting time for the culture to show results is two days. Newer faster tests using DNA technology now can confirm a positive diagnosis in a day or less, and the results are as accurate as a standard throat culture.
Many doctors today order a rapid antigen test on the sample from the throat swab. Strep can be detected within minutes, and your doctor can order antibiotic therapy immediately. There is a risk of a false negative result with this test, so doctors sometimes still use throat cultures, particularly when the rapid antigen test result is negative.
Think you Might Need to See a Doctor?
The 5 most important questions to answer correctly before you pick up the phone…
- Are you having severe difficulty breathing through the nose or mouth, swallowing water or fluids?
- Are there white or red patches at the back of the throat?
- Are you extremely exhausted?
- Do you have a hacking cough?
- Do you have a sore throat with no other symptoms?
Should you see a doctor?
Since many of the symptoms are the same as in viral throat infections, you may not need to see a doctor. If you have any of the following symptoms, however, you will most likely benefit from visiting a doctor.
- A sore throat lasting longer than 48 hours
- A sore throat without other cold symptoms, such as nasal congestion
- A sore throat with swollen lymph nodes
- A fever greater than 101 or lasting longer than 48 hours
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Your Treatment Options:
Treatment for strep throat is antibiotic medication, which must be prescribed by a doctor. Most often the prescription you will receive is one of the penicillins. In case of a penicillin allergy, you will likely be taking Erythromycin, Zithromax, or possibly a cephalosporin, such as Keflex. The streptococcus bacteria are sensitive to these antibiotics, and you will likely experience relief from your symptoms within one or two days.
It is important to take the full course of the antibiotic as prescribed, or you could have a relapse of symptoms. You may also wish to take over-the-counter medications, such as Ibuprofen (Motrin) or Acetominophen (Tylenol) to help relieve symptoms.
There are 3 categories of treatment options for relief from symptoms and for healing the underlying infection.
- Antibiotics are only effective 5-10% of the time for throat pain, mostly for bacterial infections
- Over-the-counter drugs provide relief from uncomfortable symptoms
- Self-help treatments can be effective for both viral and bacterial infections
Strep throat is a highly contagious, severe bacterial throat infection with symptoms similar to viral throat infections. It can be diagnosed by a throat swab and treated with antibiotics prescribed by a physician. Usually affecting children, The condition can affect people of any age.