Strep Throat

Strep Throat Symptoms, Causes, Treatment And Prevention

Streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, is a common blight on the lives of both adults and children worldwide, rearing its head seasonally as the nights become darker and the weather takes a turn for the decidedly more infection-friendly. Generally a viral infection, strep throat (or streptococcal sore throat) is responsible for over a third of all sore throats in kids and up to 15% of adult sore throat complaints, and causes a variety of symptoms in those that catch the infection.

The symptoms of strep throat are easy enough to spot, and while diagnosis generally requires the assistance of a medical professional it can be beneficial to learn the fundamental signs of the infection, both in yourself and your children. Strep throat is highly contagious, and coming into close quarter with an infected person will increase the likelihood of the infection spreading.  As a result, it is important for non-infected parties such as parents, partners and siblings to avoid contact with infected individuals to prevent the spread and contraction of the infection.

Strep throat treatment is virtually dependent on the prescription of specific antibiotics, generally Amoxicillin or penicillin V, which work to combat the symptoms of the condition over a shorter time period. For those that are unable to seek treatment, the complaint will usually run on for a matter of days, which while uncomfortable are thankfully not as many in number as might be the case.

Strep Symptoms

Spotting the signs of strep throat and strep throat symptoms early can allow more immediate action in the treatment process, possibly helping to fend off the onset of the worst of its symptoms. Patients should remain vigilant as to the symptoms they are experiencing to get a better grasp of whether they are suffering from strep throat and whether they might benefit from a prescribed course of antibiotic treatment to improve the impact of its symptoms.

The symptoms are many and varied, but can be seen more broadly in the majority of cases to cover a few essential complaints.

Picture of strep throat showing inflamed, infected tonsils would work well here for understanding how symptoms look.

Strep-Throat

Strep Throat

General Streptococcus Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of strep throat tends to be the painful throat, which may be accompanied by pus and signs of infection on the tonsils. The throat pain will feel dry and sharp, and it may be the cause of significant discomfort for the sufferer. Swollen lymph nodes are another key indicator of the strep infection, while in some extreme instances additional, more severe symptoms may occur, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscular pain
  • Painful headaches
  • Fever

If one or more of these symptoms is presenting alongside the arguably more notable symptoms, it is likely that the sufferer will need treatment for a strep throat infection.

Strep Throat Symptoms In Infants

Strep throat presents as one of the single most significant causes of strep throat in infants and children (as many as 37% according to some studies), and the symptoms in infants can be more difficult to spot than in children old enough to offer a description of how they feel.

While the prevalence of strep throat cases increases with children of a schooling-age, there are some cases in which an infant will present with a strep throat infection. Key signs include a general unsettled demeanor or discomfort, and those suffering from strep may also have a fever. Feel for swollen lymph glands under the jaw of young children, in combination with the presence of throat cultures which can be seen to confirm a diagnosis of a strep throat infection.

Strep Symptoms In Children

Children over the age of five are much more susceptible to strep throat than younger children, and account for a much more substantial proportion of the total cases of strep in children. Because of the nature of the infection, children who attend schools and socialize with other children will be significantly more likely to succumb to a bout of strep throat at some stage.

The symptoms in children include difficulty and discomfort in swallowing, and a dry, swollen throat that is tender and sore. The tonsils may show a pus-like culture, which is often regarded as a key sign of the presence of the streptococcal virus, while the child may feel unwell or suffer from cramps in the stomach and muscles.

Symptoms In Older Children and Adolescents

Older children and young adults are equally as susceptible to strep infection, but should be able to avoid contraction through better hygiene and regular hand-washing to eradicate bacteria. Older children may run up a more significant fever as a result of the virus, and may reflect similar symptoms to those prevalent in adults – namely the painful throat and fever-like combination of complaints.

Strep accounts for 20% of sore throats amongst adolescents, and is therefore a major cause of throat complaints in the teenage and young adult age categories.

Strep Throat Symptoms In Adults

Adults can expect a list of different potential symptoms from step throat, depending on the type of virus they have caught and the severity of their reaction to it. These can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen glands
  • Pus growth on tonsils
  • Red, swollen inner glands
  • Lack of a cough
  • Dry throat
  • Difficulty swallowing

Presenting a combination of these symptoms may mean you need to seek treatment, usually in antibiotic form, although it is possible to allow the condition to self-resolve over a period of days.

What Is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is an infection of the throat responsible for a substantial proportion of all sore throats across age ranges. It is a type of pharyngitis – that is, an inflammation of the throat. It is caused by the presence of bacteria streptococcus group A and often afflicts the tonsils and the throat of patients. The condition can be particularly uncomfortable, causing pain and difficulty in swallowing and eating, and it is a condition that appears with considerable frequency amongst those in high-risk age bands – generally those of school and early adult years.

Strep throat is caused by an infection of the group A streptococcal bacteria type, a bacteria ultimately responsible for a number of common ailments ranging from the present case of strep throat through to impetigo and even Rheumatic fever.

Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat

Strep throat and sore throats can share a number of symptoms in common, but it would be untrue to assume every case of throat discomfort to be a result of a strep infection. Strep throat presents with swollen glands and often stomach upsets and headaches, which very rarely tend to be symptoms present in those with sore throats through other causes.

The telltale sign of strep throat is the presence of pus on the tonsils, which indicates that the patient is infected with the strep bacteria. This can even be accompanied by a running nose and irritated or dry eyes, which can be triggered by the body as a response to the infection.

Sore throats and coughs can be caused by any number of issues, but generally will not run beyond the throat pain and fever boundaries. For those with strep throat, the symptoms can feel more potent, and as a result the latter more frequently requires medication in the form of prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection and reduce the impact of its symptoms.

Causes

There can be several causes of strep throat, and a medical professional will be best placed to make the judgment based on your individual case. Generally, the causes of strep and strep symptoms can be seen to the spread of the offending streptococcus bacteria through close quarters contact with carriers. The bacteria can survive in moist conditions for up to 15 days, and can remain contagious for some time aiding its spread, in particular through schools and other densely populated institutions.

Tonsils and Tonsillitis: The tonsils play a vital role in the body’s response to the threat posed by the strep infection. The tonsils may become swollen and inflamed as a result of infection, although not always necessarily as caused by the strep bacteria. Tonsillitis, or the inflammation of the tonsils can be a significant cause of sore throat, as distinct from strep, although in instances where strep is present patience may show similar symptoms and experience similar levels of discomfort.

Pharynx and Streptococcal Pharyngitis: The area at the back of the mouth around the tonsils is known as the pharynx, and inflammation of the pharynx can, like the tonsils, cause a sore throat in its own right. The pharynx performs a similar function to the tonsils in the fight against infection, and quickly swells and becomes tender in response to the immune system’s attempts to ride the body of infection. Pharyngitis is often indistinguishable from tonsillitis and other throat complaints, and so treatment tends to be of a more broad-brush nature.

Bacterial causes: Strep throat is caused by the presence of the streptococcal bacteria, responsible for the symptoms suffered by patients as a result of catching the infection. As the bacteria grows and multiplies in the body, the immune response triggers the feelings of nausea, throat pain and general discomfort as it attempts to fight off the spread of the infection. Strep can be treated with antibiotics, as with other bacterial infections, to reduce the prevalence and lifespan of negative symptoms.

Viral causes: Some throat complaints can be the cause of a virus rather than bacteria, and tests should be completed by a doctor to ascertain the exact cause to inform treatment. Viral treatments only tackle the effects of the symptoms of the complaint, while bacterial causes where present can be amenable to more direct treatment in the form of an antibiotic course. Thus, your doctor should be looking to test for the cause of your sore throat to determine how best to prescribe treatment for it.

Is Strep Throat Contagious?

Strep throat is highly contagious, and those suffering from it can easily pass the infection to a loved one or a colleague. In fact, the strep bacteria can remain active and contagious for 15 days in the right conditions, making it particular amenable to widespread infection rates. Strep throat seems to respond to changes in the seasons, becoming more prevalent in colder, winter months, and the effect of schools, colleges, the military and other close-knit communities means that the virus can quickly spread across patients of all ages and physical health.

The best option for those with strep throat is to seek a course of antibiotic treatment and the opinion of a qualified medical professional, to establish a successful treatment plan. It might also be a good idea to stay away from close contact with others for a period, in order to allow the contagiousness of the condition to lapse.

How Long Is Strep Contagious?

Strep can survive in the body for many weeks if untreated, and it is always contagious for as long as it continues to survive. Outside of the body, the bacteria is not infectious when it has died, but can survive for some two weeks in conditions that suit its prosperity – for example, damp, moist environments.

By contrast, after antibiotic treatment, strep throat and its symptoms will cease to be contagious within 24 hours, such is the efficacy of this kind of antibacterial medication. This makes it all the more important for those presenting with symptoms of strep throat to consult a doctor at their earliest convenience for treatment and to avoid spreading infection further through family and close friends.

What Is The Incubation Time For Strep Throat?

Strep throat infections can take up to five days to manifest, and the bacteria will usually require at least 48 hours to activate and trigger symptoms in patients. During this incubation time, patients can be contagious while they may not even be aware they are infected and about to experience the unpleasant  strep throat symptoms that accompany it.

Diagnosis

Strep throat can be diagnosed in three main ways, and your doctor will advise on the best method of diagnosis for you and your circumstances. These include:

Rapid Strep Test: The Rapid Strep Test is performed by a doctor’s swab, with results available from 15 minutes in solution. While these are commonly administered as a first, preliminary test for strep, there is some doubt as to the integrity of negative results, and positive results in the test are seen as far more reliable. As a result, patients that display negatively will often be tested further to resolve their diagnosis.

Throat Culture: The throat culture is often the next step in diagnosis, involving a swab of the infected area which is then transferred to a plate culture which enables the bacteria to grow. If growth is achieved, then streptococcal bacteria is present and the patient does indeed have strep throat – if there is no growth on the other hand, the diagnosis will most certainly turn out negative for the condition.

Blood Test: Blood tests remain an option open to clinicians, although generally they tend not to be recommended for the diagnosis of strep throat. These may be more useful in instances where a doctor feels it necessary to explore potentially missed diagnoses in the past, but will rarely be used in contemporary practice in place of the other, more practical testing measures.

Who Should Be Tested?

Anyone who has a sore throat and presents with the key symptoms of strep throat should consider being tested for the condition. While it is highly contagious, it can be treated and responds well to a course of medication. The infection can last for up to 14 days, and when a family member succumbs close relatives may want to remain vigilant and considering visiting their practitioner for testing and potential treatment themselves in the form of a course of antibiotics.

Treatment

Antibiotics are by far the most effective means of treating and destroying the strep bacteria, and they can have a speedy effect in relieving strep symptoms. Different antibiotics can be used in tandem to treat particular persistent cases, while most antibiotic prescriptions will cut contagiousness within 24 hours of the successful completion of treatment.

Are There Any Recommended Strep Throat Remedies?

The strep remedy that tends to be favored amongst practitioners in the US is penicillin V, compared to Amoxicillin in Europe and the UK. Both treatments do essentially the same thing to fight against the infection, and they are particularly effective at eradicating the underlying cause of discomfort and suffering.

There are also effective remedies available over the counter for treating the various different symptoms that accompany strep throat, and a combination of medicines may be best suited to improving the patient’s condition. Some individuals may even know of sore throat home remedies that can be effective at either treating the symptoms of the cause of the condition, although antibiotics are invariably a more effective tool.

Why It’s So Important To Treat Strep Throat?

Strep can cause significant discomfort and pain, and is more than a little inconvenient for most that suffer from it. If strep is left untreated, it can persist symptomatically for a longer period, and can survive within the body and the surrounding environment for a much longer period of time. This highly contagious virus needs treatment in order to prevent its proliferation and the spread of misery and discomfort to others – and with a simple course of antibiotics, most cases can be cleared up in a matter of days.

Written By Miranda Stephens

Miranda Stephens, MD is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. Dr. Stephens earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado.She completed a residency in Family Medicine at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In 2006 Dr. Stephens was chosen for Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

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