Strep throat can be a painful and frustrating respiratory condition, making it hard to swallow, eat and sleep. Although the conventional treatment for strep throat is antibiotics, research shows that they only reduce the length of the illness by about half a day. They also don’t seem to affect time off from school or work. Because antibiotic-resistant bacteria is becoming a real threat, it’s helpful to try strep throat home remedies first. It’s also important to avoid close contact with others until your strep throat symptoms are gone; this way you won’t spread the bacteria and reinfect yourself.
- 16 Strep Throat Home Remedies
- What to Eat and Drink:
- What to Do:
- Essential Oils:
- To Prevent Spreading the Infection:
- Final Thoughts
- How to get rid of a sore throat: 6 home remedies you should try
- Two home remedies for sore throat to avoid
- When to see a doctor about throat pain
- Strep Throat: Management and Treatment
- How to Treat Strep Throat
- Home Remedies to Treat Throat Pain and Discomfort
- Strep Throat
- Causes and complications
- Diagnosis & tests
- Treatment & medication
- Other types of strep infections
Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat
Sore throats are pain in the throat that is typically caused by a virus. It can be due to bacteria, allergies, pollution or throat dryness. Strep throat is an infection of the throat caused by bacteria. Sore throat is a symptom of strep throat and it’s also a symptom of other respiratory conditions. Both are contagious; they can be passed from person to person in any place with close contact.
Not many people with sore throats have bacterial infections. According to the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement, viruses cause 85 to 95 percent of throat infections in adults and children younger than 5 years of age. Viruses cause about 70 percent of throat infections in those aged 5 to 15 years, with the other 30 percent due to bacterial infections, mostly group A strep. Natural sore throat remedies should be your first choice, as antibiotic treatment will not help a viral infection. (1)
It can be hard to tell the difference between strep throat symptoms and symptoms of a viral infection. Remember, while trying to make a self-diagnosis, that strep throat doesn’t include cold symptoms, like coughing, sneezing or runny nose. If you have a sore throat with cold symptoms, it’s likely caused by a viral infection and it’s not strep throat. (2) Try strep throat home remedies to find some relief from your symptoms.
Causes & Symptoms of Strep Throat
Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils. It’s caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, also called group A strep. The group A strep bacteria is very contagious. It spreads through contact after an infected person coughs, sneezes, touches your mouth, nose or eyes. The bacteria also spreads by sharing a glass, utensil, plate or even a doorknob. This is why strep throat seems to happen more often in the colder months when people tend to be in closer quarters.
Strep throat symptoms typically start within five days of exposure to the strep bacteria; symptoms include (3) :
- Sore throat and difficulty swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils
- Red spots on the roof of the mouth and a white or yellow coating on the throat and tonsils
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or above
- Headache and body aches
- Non-itching, red rash, which is a sign of scarlet fever. Scarlet fever is a serious bacterial infection.
Conventional Strep Throat Treatment
The most common strep throat treatment is antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin. Research suggests that just mentioning a sore throat to a doctor almost guarantees a prescription for antibiotics, even though viral infections cause 85 to 90 percent of sore throats in adults.
Studies show that antibiotics are only somewhat helpful when used for strep throat. They can improve symptoms at 3 to 4 days and cut the length of the illness by about half a day. Antibiotic treatment doesn’t seem to affect time off from school or work. (4)
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are also used to relieve the pain related to strep throat.
16 Strep Throat Home Remedies
Elderberry has antibacterial and antiviral effects. A recent study showed that elderberry can protect against respiratory symptoms during long flights. Researchers analyzed this due to the increased risk of getting upper respiratory disorders and virus and bacteria-induced respiratory infections on flights. They found that the travelers returning from overseas, who used elderberry, showed fewer respiratory symptoms than the placebo group. (5)
You can drink elderberry tea, take capsules, or use elderberry powder. You can even buy it in liquid form.
Known as another way to prevent the common cold, researchers suggest that there are many powerful echinacea benefits, including its ability to work as an immuno-enhancing herb that can stop the spread of bacterial conditions like strep throat. There is good evidence suggesting that the phytochemicals in echinacea, and one of its compounds called echinacein, can keep bacteria and viruses from entering healthy cells. (6)
Echinacea can also be used to relieve pain related to strep throat, such as sore throat, headaches and body aches. It has anti-inflammatory effects that will help to reduce swelling in the throat and tonsils. Take echinacea in liquid form, as a tea or in capsule form as soon as symptoms appear.
3. Vitamin C
Use vitamin C to boost your immune system, repair tissue damage in the throat and decrease your risk of a wide range of illnesses. Take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C to fight off an oncoming infection. Take 4,000 milligrams per day to get rid of an infection already in your system. (7) If you have strep throat and need to boost your vitamin C consumption, take a supplement and eat vitamin C foods like oranges, kale, strawberries, grapefruit and kiwi. If you are having trouble swallowing, try making a smoothie.
4. Vitamin D
Researchers have studied the link between vitamin D deficiency and respiratory infections for years. Scientific evidence shows the important role vitamin D plays in the immune system because of its antimicrobial defenses. A recent study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases shows that there’s a link between vitamin D deficiency and the recurrence of respiratory conditions caused by group A strep bacteria. (8)
What to Eat and Drink:
5. Raw Honey
A daily dose of raw honey raises levels of health-promoting antioxidants in the body. This helps to boost the immune system and is one of several soothing strep throat home remedies. According to research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, honey’s healing property is due to its antibacterial activity, ability to maintain a moist wound condition and its thick consistency that helps to create a protective barrier to prevent infection. Studies have found that medical grade honeys have strong bactericidal activity to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause several life-threatening infections in humans. (9)
6. Bone Broth
Bone broth helps to keep you hydrated and it provides minerals that you need to boost your immune system. It’s soothing and easy to eat when you are suffering from a sore throat or swollen tonsils due to strep throat. Bone broth contains minerals in forms that your body can easily absorb, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur. It also contains chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, the compounds sold as pricey supplements to reduce swelling and joint pain. (10)
Instead of spending hours making bone broth from scratch, use protein powder made from bone broth to help you recover from strep throat quickly. Drink warm bone broth throughout the day.
7. Herbal Tea
Drink herbal tea to soothe your throat, ease pain and treat inflammation of the mucous membranes. Chamomile tea is a great choice because the plant is loaded with antioxidants that help reduce pain, congestion, swelling and redness. (11) Dandelion tea is another one of the strep throat home remedies because it is used to treat infections, ease an upset stomach and boost your immune system.
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
Sipping apple cider vinegar is an easy way to treat strep throat naturally. Apple cider vinegar has powerful healing compounds such as acetic acid, which can kill dangerous bacteria while helping the growth of beneficial bacteria. Because acetic acid kills unwanted bacteria when it comes into contact with it, this natural compound practically acts as a natural antibiotic. (12)
What to Do:
9. Gargle with Himalayan Salt
Gargling with pink Himalayan salt water helps to reduce swelling, soothes a sore throat and creates an unpleasant environment for bacteria in your mouth. Salt temporarily increases the pH balance of your mouth, creating an alkaline environment that makes it hard for bacteria to survive. Himalayan salt is known to improve respiratory conditions because it’s an antibacterial agent. It has anti-inflammatory properties and it removes pathogens from the mouth when gargled or swallowed. (13)
10. Try Oil Pulling
Research shows that oil pulling has the power to reduce the presence of strep bacteria in the mouth. Use it as a tool to maintain oral health. (14)
Coconut oil pulling is one of the best ways to remove bacteria from the mouth. It works as an oral detox, sucking up the toxins in your mouth and creating a clean, germ-free environment. To use oil pulling as one of your strep throat home remedies, swish 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in your mouth for at least ten minutes. Then spit out the oil in the trash, rinse your mouth and brush your teeth.
11. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil is a great essential oil for a sore throat. It reduces swelling in the throat, which is why it’s often used for the treatment of respiratory infections. Because peppermint oil contains menthol, it causes a cooling sensation and a calming effect on the body. (15)
Add 1-2 drops of peppermint oil to a glass or water or to your toothpaste to use it internally. For topical use, apply 1-2 drops to your throat, chest and temples.
12. Lemon Oil
Lemon oil has antibacterial properties and it helps to cleanse toxins from the body. Research shows that lemon oil is able to limit the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. (16) To use lemon essential oil, add 1-2 drops to a glass of cool or warm water, or add it to herbal tea for more flavor.
13. Thyme Oil
Thyme oil supports the immune and respiratory systems, making it one of the strep throat home remedies. A 2011 study published in Medicinal Chemistry tested thyme oil’s response to 120 strains of bacteria taken from patients with infections of oral cavity, respiratory and genitourinary tracts. Results showed strong activity against all clinical strains. It also showed effectiveness to resist antibiotic resistant strains. (17)
You can use thyme oil as a mouthwash by adding 2 drops to water and gargling. Or take a bath with 2 drops of thyme oil added to ease body aches.
To Prevent Spreading the Infection:
14. Avoid Contact
As long as you have strep throat symptoms, don’t sneeze or cough on others in order to stop the bacteria from spreading. Do not share glasses, utensils, plates or food with anyone for two weeks. Use a powerful and natural soap, like castile soap, to wash your dishes and the surfaces in your bathroom and kitchen counter.
15. Wash Your Hands
Be sure to wash your hands throughout the day, especially if you are around other people. Use an antibacterial soap to get rid of any trace of group A strep. One example is this Homemade Hand Soap with castile soap and peppermint oil.
16. Replace Your Toothbrush
Replace your toothbrush when you first show symptoms of strep throat and then again after you are well. This will help you to avoid reinfecting yourself with another group A strep infection.
Get a lab test before you decide to use antibiotics, as they will not help against viral sore throats. Viruses such as influenza and adenovirus cause most sore throats. Also, strep throat symptoms and symptoms of non-strep sore throat are a lot alike.
You should see your doctor if you have trouble swallowing, your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils, or your fever doesn’t go down. Antibiotic treatment should only be used for illnesses that it can treat best; overuse can contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, if you are still sick after nine days of using these home remedies for strep throat, see your doctor about further treatment.
- Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils caused by the group A strep bacteria. It is highly contagious and spreads through close contact.
- Strep throat may lead to scarlet fever, a very serious bacterial infection.
- The conventional treatment for strep throat is antibiotics. Antibiotics will cut the length of the illness by about half a day.
- Strep throat home remedies include supplements that will boost the immune system, foods that will soothe the throat and ease pain, and essential oils that help to kill bacteria.
Read Next: Lymphatic System: How to Make it Strong & Effective
Your poor, sore throat. Is there anything that can help? Family medicine doctor Daniel Allan, MD, shares the most effective home remedies for a sore throat, along with those that don’t work as advertised.
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How to get rid of a sore throat: 6 home remedies you should try
1. Warm and cold fluids.
The skinny: Sip on warm drinks, such as tea or chicken soup. (It’s not just for the soul!) Or try cold liquids, such as ice water or popsicles.
Doctor’s advice: Liquids help clear mucous membranes, keep things flowing and prevent sinus infections. Warm temperatures may also reduce coughs by soothing the back of the throat. Try both warm and cold to see what works best for you.
The skinny: Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt — or a similar amount of baking soda — in a glass of warm water. Gargle (but don’t swallow) the concoction every three hours for an all-natural sore throat remedy.
Doctor’s advice: Salt water can help reduce swelling and irritation in your throat. Baking soda also soothes the throat, breaks up mucus and can help with throat-irritating acid reflux.
3. Over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers
The skinny: An antihistamine may dull or relieve the throat pain. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen also help with pain that’s located a little deeper in the glands and other parts of the neck.
Doctor’s advice: Histamines are chemicals that help your immune system fight foreign substances. But sometimes they go overboard, triggering symptoms (such as congestion and post-nasal drip) that can make a sore throat feel worse. Antihistamines can counteract this overreaction.
4. Steam and humidity
The skinny: Take a hot shower. When it gets really steamy, breathe in the magic.
Doctor’s advice: Steam loosens mucus and can moisturize and soothe a sore throat.
5. Hot toddy
The skinny: A hot toddy is a drink combo made with water, whiskey, honey and lemon juice and served hot. Some people add spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.
Doctor’s advice: Hot toddies can be very soothing. Here’s why:
- Honey coats your throat and soothes it by reducing irritation. Honey also has antibacterial properties, and the sweetness can calm the throat’s nerve endings and reduce coughing.
- Whiskey (a small amount; too much can dehydrate you) breaks up and thins mucus. Whiskey also dilates the blood vessels on the surface of the throat, so immune cells in your blood can multiply and fight the infection.
- Spices stimulate saliva production, improving both hydration and mucus flow in your throat.
The skinny: Put your head on your pillow at a decent hour and close your eyes. Repeat as necessary.
Doctor’s advice: Don’t underestimate physically resting your body and voice. But beware: Lying flat can sometimes cause swelling due to an increase in pressure at the back of the throat. Instead, try elevating the bed or sitting propped up or in a chair to alleviate the pain and discomfort.
Two home remedies for sore throat to avoid
Dr. Allan warns that not all sore throat remedies are created equal. He recommends you pass on these two:
- Apple cider vinegar (“It probably has some antibacterial properties, but that’s not going to do much for the sore throat itself.”)
- Essential oils (“They haven’t been well-studied or clinically proven for safety or effectiveness.”)
And avoid things that can irritate your throat, including:
- Dry air.
- Acidic foods or spicy foods.
- Lying down immediately after you eat, especially if you have acid reflux.
When to see a doctor about throat pain
Dr. Allan says to use common sense when deciding whether to seek out medical care. Call a doctor if you:
- Have throat pain that’s severe, prolonged or not improving, or stretches into your ear.
- Have trouble swallowing, breathing or opening your mouth.
- Are coughing up blood or have blood in your saliva.
- Feel enlarged lymph nodes, or lumps, in your neck.
- Have white patches on the back of your throat or a rash, possible signs of strep throat or scarlet fever.
- Have a high fever.
- Lose your voice for more than a week or two.
And remember, when it comes to illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of hot toddies. Wash your hands often. And if you do get sick, Dr. Allan advises immediately replacing your toothbrush with a fresh, germ-free one.
Strep Throat: Management and Treatment
How is strep throat treated?
Strep throat is treated using antibiotics. An antibiotic is a type of medicine that kills the bacteria that cause the infection.
Antibiotics are often taken as pills or given as a shot. Penicillin and amoxicillin are common antibiotics used to treat strep throat. Other antibiotics are ordered for people who are allergic to penicillin.
Your healthcare provider may give your child a shot or prescribe an antibiotic in either pill or liquid form. The pills or liquid are usually taken for 10 days. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Your child should take all of the medication, even if he or she feels better. The bacteria can still be alive even if your child feels okay.
What can be done to relieve the pain of strep throat?
Your child should:
- Drink soothing liquids, such as warm tea.
- Take a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®).
Aspirin should not be given to children. Aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening illness, in children and adolescents who have fevers.
Other sore throats don’t need special medicine, so why does strep throat?
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, which cannot be cured with medicine; you can only relieve the aches and pains. Viruses heal on their own and cannot be cured with antibiotics or other medicines.
Strep throat is caused by a bacterium. Infections caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics. Strep throat can lead to more serious illnesses, so it’s important to get it treated.
Can I take antibiotics I already have in the house for strep throat?
You should never take medicines left over from an earlier illness or give a leftover medicine to your children. Leftover antibiotics can also make strep throat more difficult to treat and can cause serious side effects.
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How to Treat Strep Throat
Penicillin and amoxicillin are the two standard antibiotic treatments for strep throat. Either option is taken by mouth for 10 days.
In rare cases when someone can’t swallow effectively, injected penicillin may be used instead.
“Thankfully, Group A strep bacteria is 100 percent susceptible to these antibiotics,” notes Dr. Rajapakse. “We’ve never found any isolates that are resistant.”
In cases where a patient is allergic to penicillin or amoxicillin, another family of antibiotics may be substituted.
In these situations, “The only difference is that, often, we’ll have to test the specific type of strep the person has to make sure that the antibiotics work against it,” says Rajapakse.
Once you start taking antibiotics, you’ll still be contagious for about 24 hours. During this time, it’s important to take precautions not to spread your infection — such as staying home, and not coughing or sneezing uncovered or onto your hands.
Taking antibiotics for strep throat has two main benefits: reducing symptoms and preventing complications.
“We know that treating patients with antibiotics shortens their length of symptoms,” Rajapakse notes. But preventing complications may be even more important, since even though they’re uncommon, they can be severe.
Potential complications from untreated strep throat include an infected mass in the area around your tonsils, and an inflammatory condition called rheumatic fever — all of which can require lifesaving hospitalization and cause lasting damage.
There’s no need to get tested again for strep bacteria after your course of antibiotics is complete, assuming your symptoms have cleared up.
In fact, Rajapakse says, testing for strep in people without symptoms can be harmful because some people carry the bacteria without it causing any harmful symptoms.
“If you do swabs on people who don’t have symptoms, you’re just finding these carriers who don’t benefit from antibiotics,” she notes. (1, 2, 3)
Home Remedies to Treat Throat Pain and Discomfort
In addition to taking your prescribed antibiotics — or if you have a viral infection rather than strep throat — there are several steps you can take to increase your comfort level:
- Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help relieve throat pain and reduce fever. Be careful when it comes to aspirin — it should never be given to children recovering from chicken pox or flu-like symptoms, since it can cause a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
- Drink hot beverages. Warm drinks like tea can soothe your throat, especially if you add lemon and honey.
- Or, try cold beverages. Some people may prefer the effect of cold beverages or even popsicles on their throat, since cold has inherent pain-relieving properties.
- Suck on throat lozenges. Many throat lozenges have pain-relieving (analgesic) ingredients, and all of them can help soothe your throat by increasing the flow of saliva.
- Try gargling with salt water. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon (tsp) of salt in 1 cup warm water, and gargle with this solution several times a day to see if it improves your symptoms.
- Use a humidifier. If your home or bedroom has dry air, using a humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer may help soothe your throat. Note that if you have allergies, a humidifier may make your symptoms worse. Also, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning out your humidifier regularly to avoid the buildup of mold and other particulate matter, which can make allergies worse. (3, 4)
Sore throats most often are caused by an infection of the pharynx (pharyngitis). In ~90% of cases, the etiologies of these infections are viruses??such as influenza, adenovirus, and mononucleosis. They may be due to bacterial infections, however.1 Strep throat, also referred to as group A beta-hemolytic streptococci, is the most prevalent cause of bacterial infections in the throat. (Individuals with this type of infection should be referred to a physician.)
- Common cold
- Breathing through the mouth continually
- Viral pharyngitis
- Strep throat infection
- Draining from sinuses
- Inhalation of irritating chemical fumes or smoke
Fortunately, many sore throats are minor in nature. Pharmacists can assess the specific symptoms described by the patient and make clinical interventions according- ly, based on this information. A plethora of OTC topical products currently are available. Many are in sugarfree form for diabetic patients.
Sore throat products are available as lozenges, sprays, gargles, and, most recently, pain strips that are applied directly to the tongue, providing immediate pain relief. These agents usually contain anesthetics, such as benzocaine and dyclonine hydrochloride, which provide temporary relief. Most of these products can be utilized every 2 to 3 hours. Other products available contain local antiseptics, such as cetylpyridinium chloride, hexylresorcinol, and/or menthol or camphor.2 Some products also may contain phenol.
Lozenges are the most commonly used OTC products for the treatment of sore throat pain. There are 3 main types: lozenges with a weak topical anesthetic, lozenges with menthol, and unmedicated lozenges (Tables 1-3).
New Sore Throat Products
Cepacol Lozenges for Sore Throat from Post Nasal Drip (Combe) contain 3 mg of the oral anesthetic menthol. This product works by countering throat soreness due to mucus drip. Pain relief is rapid. The product also provides menthol vapors, which help relieve nasal congestion. It is available in cherry and menthol flavors.
Chloraseptic Relief Strips (Prestige) are rapid-acting oral strips that contain 3 mg of both menthol and benzocaine. The product is recommended for use in adults and children ??5 years of age. Two strips are used per dose. The strip is placed on the back of the tongue to dissolve in the mouth. A second strip is used immediately after the first strip dissolves. A patient may use these strips every 2 hours as needed or as directed by a health care professional.
Other Recommendations for Patients
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially warm soothing liquids, or use cooling agents, such as popsicles or cold liquids
- Gargle with warm salt-water rinses
- Use hard candies to increase saliva production to ease irritation
- Utilize a humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer
- Get sufficient rest
After careful assessment of the patient’s preexisting medical conditions and concurrent medication profile, the pharmacist also may recommend the use of OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen.
If sore throat pain persists for more than 2 days and is accompanied by or followed by a fever, rash, headache, nausea, and/or vomiting, pharmacists should instruct patients not to attempt to treat themselves.
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in the northern Virginia area.
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What Is Strep Throat?
If a kid has strep throat, the doctor will give him or her medicine called an antibiotic (say: an-tye-bye-AH-tik) to kill the strep bacteria. That’s good news because sometimes strep throat can get worse and cause problems with other parts of a kid’s body. For example, untreated strep can cause arthritis (say: ar-THRY-tis), kidney problems, or heart problems from a disease called rheumatic (say: roo-MA-tick) fever.
Most of the time kids get the medicine they need and recover from strep throat very quickly. After taking the medicine for 24 hours, you will feel a lot better and will no longer be contagious.
How Do I Know if I Have Strep Throat?
If you have a sore throat, your doctor will look into your mouth. He or she looking for:
- a red throat
- swollen tonsils
- white or yellow spots on your tonsils
- small red spots in the roof of your mouth
Most of the time, strep will give you a sore throat, headache, stomachache, and fever. It probably won’t give you a runny nose or cough.
To be sure you have strep throat, your doctor may do one or two tests:
First, he or she can do a rapid strep test to check for strep bacteria. The doctor rubs a cotton swab over the back of your throat. Then, the doctor can find out in a few minutes if you have strep throat.
If the first test doesn’t prove anything, your doctor might do a longer test called a throat culture. Again, the doctor will use a cotton swab. This time, the sample goes on a special dish and is left to sit for 2 nights. If you have strep throat, the bacteria will usually grow in the dish within 1–2 days.
How Can I Get Better?
If you have strep throat, your doctor will give you an antibiotic, a medicine that kills bacteria. To make sure the bacteria go away completely and don’t spread to other parts of your body, you must finish all of the medicine. Your doctor will have you take the pills or liquid for 10 days.
It’s really important to take all 10 days of the medicine to make sure all the bad bacteria are gone. If you don’t, you could get sick all over again.
Your mom or dad may give you acetaminophen (say: uh-see-tuh-MIN-uh-fin) to get rid of aches, pains, and fever. You’ll want to have soothing drinks, like tea and warm chicken soup. Frozen foods like ice cream or popsicles also can help to ease throat pain. Avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as orange juice, because they could hurt your tender throat.
Your doctor will tell you to stay home from school until you have been taking the antibiotic for at least 24 hours. This way, you won’t spread the bacteria to others.
Is Strep Throat Contagious?
Strep throat is very contagious, and anybody can get it. It happens a lot in kids and teens, especially during the school year when big groups of kids are together.
How Do People Get Strep Throat?
Strep throat is spread when healthy people come into contact with someone who has it. The bacteria can spread to you when a person with strep throat sneezes, coughs, or blows his or her nose and you’re nearby, or if you share the same forks, spoons, or straws.
If you get strep throat, you’ll start to feel sick within 5 days after you were around the person who gave it to you.
Can I Prevent Strep Throat?
If someone in your house has strep throat, you might get it. But following these tips can help protect you:
- Make sure the person with strep throat covers his or her mouth when sneezing and coughing.
- Don’t handle used tissues or other germy items.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially before eating.
- Wash dishes, drinking glasses, knives, forks, and spoons in hot, soapy water.
- Keep sores and cuts clean because strep can get in your skin and cause problems, too.
Strep throat is no fun, but after feeling sick for 2 or 3 days, most kids start getting back to normal. In other words, they feel less streppy and more peppy!
Reviewed by: Joanne Murren-Boezem, MD Date reviewed: September 2017
Strep throat (also known as pharyngitis or streptococcal pharyngitis) is an infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, or Group A Streptococcus (GAS).
Streptococcal pharyngitis is highly contagious and can spread by nasal secretions and saliva. Strep throat most often afflicts children younger than 16, and is most common in the United States in the winter and spring, according to the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Causes and complications
You can catch strep throat when exposed to infected droplets of spit — i.e. from the coughs and sneezes of those infected. Strep throat itself is not particularly dangerous, but the infection can worsen, especially if it goes untreated. If strep throat does not improve within two days of beginning treatment, it could indicate the presence of another infection, the spread of the strep bacteria to other areas outside the throat or an inflammatory reaction. GAS may infect the tonsils and sinuses if left untreated. Also, the middle ear, skin and blood can become infected.
Symptoms of strep throat typically appear several days after exposure to the bacteria. The most common symptom is a sore throat. Individuals may also have trouble swallowing, and the tonsils and lymph nodes may feel swollen. Some individuals may experience fever, stomach ache or vomiting, fatigue or headache. A white rash may develop on the tonsils, or the throat may have stringy puss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Diagnosis & tests
To diagnose strep throat, a physician will perform a physical exam and a throat swab.
During the physical, a doctor examines the throat and mouth for signs of infection including redness and swelling. Also, the doctor will check for a fever and feel the lymph nodes, which will be enlarged in the presence of infection.
Many types of bacteria and, more frequently, viruses can cause a sore throat, so to determine the culprit, doctors will perform a throat swab, rubbing a swab over the back of the throat and tonsils. The sample can then be run through what’s called the rapid antigen test, which takes just minutes and can reveal whether molecules called antigens related to the GAS bacteria show up; doctors can also culture the bacteria in the lab to see if the bacteria pop up — a test that can take up to two days, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Although physicians often suspect that strep bacteria are the cause of a sore throat, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that another bacterium, Fusobacterium necrophorum, should also be on doctors’ short lists. In a study published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers noted that the bacteria might be the culprit of up to 10 percent of sore throat cases in adolescents and early 20-somethings.
Treatment & medication
It is possible for strep throat to clear up without treatment; however, the risk of complications could increase in some individuals. Moreover, the infection is contagious until treated.
Doctors typically prescribe penicillin or amoxicillin to treat strep throat. For individuals with a penicillin allergy, newer generations of antibiotics may be used. These include cephalexin, erythromycin and azithromycin. All of these antibiotics kill strep bacteria, alleviate symptoms and decrease the amount of time an individual is sick. Physicians may also recommend an over-the-counter pain and fever reducer, the Mayo Clinic noted.
Within 24 hours of beginning treatment, an individual is usually no longer contagious and he or she will begin to feel better, according to the Mayo Clinic. Still, all medication should be taken for the duration prescribed to prevent complications.
In addition to medication, individuals should rest from work and school, drink plenty of water and avoid chemicals and environments that may further irritate the throat. Also, gargling warm salt water, using a humidifier and eating soft and cold foods can soothe the throat.
Some people are more susceptible to getting strep throat repeatedly. Often, doctors will prescribe tonsil removal to prevent further infections.
Other types of strep infections
GAS can also cause an infection called scarlet fever. The infection is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 and generally begins with a fever and sore throat, according to the CDC. Scarlet fever is typically a mild illness that may resolve on its own but treatment with antibiotics can help symptoms disappear sooner.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is another type of strep bacteria which can cause blood infections, pneumonia and meningitis in newborns, according to the NIH. Some women carry this type of bacteria in their intestines and vagina, but it is not passed through sexual contact. However, mothers can pass the bacteria to a newborn during birth, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Most babies who come in contact will not become sick, but the few babies who do become sick can have severe problems, including infections in the blood (sepsis), the lungs (pneumonia) or the brain (meningitis). As such, doctors screen all expecting mothers for the bacteria; those who test positive for the bacteria should receive antibiotics during labor.
According to the CDC, a pregnant woman who tests positive for GBS bacteria and received antibiotics during pregnancy has a 1 in 4,000 change that her baby will develop GBS disease, versus a 1 in 200 chance if she didn’t receive antibiotics.
In adults, Group B strep can cause urinary tract infections, blood infections, skin infections, pneumonia and, rarely, meningitis, according to the CDC.
Strep bacteria can also cause inflammation of the kidneys, called post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the condition can occur one to two weeks after a strep throat infection.
- CDC: Worried you sore throat may be strep?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine information on Streptococcal infections
- Information about strep throat from PubMed Health
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice. This article was updated on Oct. 15, 2018 by Live Science Managing Editor, Jeanna Bryner.