The name itself, strep throat, sounds ominous and it suggests pain and suffering, which pretty much sums it up. It’s a bacterial infection that renders your throat sore and scratchy, and at times it can seem like there’s no end in sight. That’s because strep throat can last days or weeks. Alleviating the symptoms and making strep throat disappear within a reasonable amount of time usually requires antibiotic medications, available only through a doctor’s prescription.
Strep Throat Symptoms
Although strep throat most commonly afflicts children, per mayoclinic.org, people of all ages are susceptible. The source of strep throat is the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, also known as group A streptococcus. It is highly contagious and can make the rounds via airborne droplets produced when someone infected coughs or sneezes or carelessly shares food or drinks with someone else.
It can also be transferred to you from a doorknob or some other type of surface that an infected person has come in contact with. Such contact in itself is not the problem; that comes when you touch your nose, mouth, or eyes with a part of your body that has come in contact with the infection.
Children are more susceptible to strep throat, per medicalnewstoday.com, because their immune system has not been exposed to as many infectious agents, and therefore they haven’t built up sufficient immunity to fight off most infections.
Per everydayhealth.com, some of the more common symptoms of strep throat include the following:
- Throat is very red, often with white patches
- Body aches
- Pain that accompanies swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes in neck
A Strep Throat Diagnosis
Symptoms alone won’t confirm the presence of a strep infection, but experiencing some or all of them is a sign you should see your physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Immediate attention should especially be sought if symptoms persist for more than a couple weeks, you are experiencing difficulty breathing, swallowing saliva or fluids is a problem, or painkillers aren’t helping, as well as other signs.
Once your doctor has examined you, checking for signs and symptoms of strep throat, per mayoclinic.org, he or she will likely swab your throat and perform what’s known as a rapid antigen test. This simple procedure checks for the presence of strep bacteria in your throat, usually made evident by the presence of antigens. This can be done in minutes.
If that test turns up negative, your physician, still suspecting a strep throat, then might take a slightly more invasive throat culture that involves rubbing a sterile swab over the back of the throat and tonsils (if still present, of course) to get a sample of secretions, complete with the usual gaging on the part of the patient. The secretion sample is then sent to a lab to be checked for the presence of bacteria, a process that can take two to three days.
Keep in mind that strep throat left untreated can lead to complications such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever, which in turn runs the risk of painful and inflamed joints, certain kinds of rashes, and even damage to heart valves, per medicinenet.com.
If and when your doctor has confirmed that you have the strep throat infection, he or she will typically prescribe an oral antibiotic. If taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, the antibiotics should be able to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms, per Mayo Clinic.
Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat
You know your throat is sore, but you wonder if it is ‘just’ a sore throat or strep throat. What’s the difference? As uncomfortable as a sore throat can be, it is not as painful as strep throat. Because a sore throat is caused by a virus and not an infection, it won’t respond to antibiotics, either. Strep throat, on the other hand, is caused by an infection and is more painful than a sore throat, although it should respond to a treatment based on antibiotics.
Home Remedies and Tips to Deal with Strep Throat
None of these will ‘cure’ strep throat, but each will in its own way contribute to helping you prevent getting strep throat in the first place, or at least make it more tolerable should it break through your defenses:
- Echinacea. This herbal supplement is a potent immunity booster to help ward off infections such as strep throat.
- Clean your hands regularly. Use soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, per mayoclinic.org.
- Cover your mouth thoroughly – when sneezing or coughing.
- Don’t share. We’re referring here to drinking glasses, eating utensils, toothbrushes, etc. And when done with the dishes, wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water or the dishwasher.
- Get sufficient sleep. Seven or eight hours minimum a night is recommended; plenty of sleep helps keep your immune system up to snuff. This is especially important if you come down with strep throat.
- Eat foods that soothe. Consumables easy to swallow such as broths, cooked cereal (oatmeal), mashed potatoes, soft fruits, and scrambled eggs are a good start.
- Gargle. Several times a day, in fact, can help older children and adults. Use a mix of warm (not hot) water and salt. It will help relieve throat pain, per Mayo Clinic.
- Lozenges. Choose those designed to keep your throat moist, and those containing anesthetics might relieve strep throat pain, at least some, per medicinenet.com.
- Pain relievers. Over-the-counter products such as ibuprofen and naproxen can alleviate pain and inflammation.