Strep Throat: 9 Things to Know

  • male oral exam
    Strep Throat Information for Effective Treatment
    How do you tell the difference between strep throat and a regular sore throat? And what should you do if you have strep?

    Strep throat is a common, painful throat infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. Approximately one-third of all sore throats are caused by strep.

    Because strep requires different treatment than viral sore throats, it’s a good idea to learn the signs and symptoms of strep throat, as well as how when (and how) to seek medical care.

  • Young woman drinking water with hand on throat have difficulty swallowing
    1. Trouble swallowing and loss of appetite can be symptoms of strep throat.
    Pain when swallowing is a cardinal symptom of strep throat. Some people describe the pain as “stabbing.” Because it hurts to swallow, eating may be utterly unappealing. In small children, a loss of appetite can be an early sign of strep.

    Other common strep throat symptoms include fever; painful or swollen neck glands; red, swollen tonsils; and white patches at the back of the throat. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), most people who have strep do not have a cough or runny nose.
  • two elementary school friends race to the school bus
    2. Strep throat is very contagious.
    The bacteria that cause strep throat are easily spread via talking, sneezing and coughing. The bacteria can hitch a ride on surfaces too, including toothbrushes and eating utensils.

    Strep throat is incredibly common in school-aged children because they spend so much time in close proximity—and aren’t great at personal hygiene. Frequent handwashing and good hygiene measures (such as covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or shirtsleeve during coughs and sneezes or using individual instead of shared cups and plates) can prevent the spread of strep.
  • Young African American boy having throat checked by older African American doctor
    3. Strep throat can cause serious health complications.
    Most people recover from strep throat without problem. However, possible complications of strep throat include rheumatic fever (a disease that can affect the heart, joints, brain and skin), heart damage, and kidney disease. Some children with strep develop a condition called pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with strep infection, or PANDAS, which is characterized by the sudden development of movement or verbal tics or obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

    These complications are rare. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment of strep throat may prevent serious complications.
  • male doctor examining female patient's throat and performing a throat swab (sample of throat secretions for testing)
    4. A strep test is the only way to know for sure if you have strep.
    Think you may have strep? Head to a local medical clinic. Strep throat can’t be diagnosed via a virtual visit; healthcare providers need to check if strep bacteria are present in your throat, and to do so, they must obtain a sample of your throat secretions. If your symptoms suggest possible strep throat, a healthcare provider will likely order a rapid strep test, which entails swabbing the back of the throat with what looks like a giant cotton swab. Results are generally available in about 5 minutes. Sometimes, additional laboratory testing is needed to confirm or rule out strep infection.
  • Medicines in hand
    5. Strep throat usually requires treatment with antibiotics.
    Because strep throat is caused by bacteria, oral antibiotics are an effective treatment. Healthcare providers usually prescribe a 10-day course of antibiotics for strep. Most people feel much better within 24 hours of starting antibiotic treatment. However, it is important to finish the whole course of antibiotics. Stopping antibiotics too soon can give the strep bacteria a chance “take over” again; your infection might get worse or spread to another part of the body. Quitting antibiotics too soon can also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Young Caucasian girl sick on couch with mother checking throat for swelling
    6. People who have strep should stay home.
    Because strep throat is incredibly contagious, people who have strep should not go to daycare, school, work or other public places (or private homes) until they are fever-free and have been on antibiotics at least 24 hours. If you think you might have strep, stay home until you can see a healthcare provider to confirm or rule out strep infection.

    After about a day on antibiotics, people with strep throat are no longer able to pass the infection on to others.

  • Overhead shot of Caucasian woman sick at home drinking tea on couch
    7. Gargling salt water can ease the pain of strep throat.
    You can treat the discomfort of strep throat even before you’re officially diagnosed—and you can continue to use home remedies until you’re feeling better. Gargling warm salt water several times a day can ease the pain. (You can make your own salt water by mixing about a half teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water.)

    Other warm liquids, including soup, broth, tea and hot chocolate, can soothe the throat as well. Some people prefer cool or cold liquids. Avoid acidic beverages such as orange juice, grapefruit juice, and lemonade, as these can irritate the throat.
  • Toothbrush
    9. You’ll need a new toothbrush.
    The bacteria that cause strep throat can live on toothbrushes. To avoid the possibility of reinfection, discard your old toothbrush and get a new one after you’ve been on antibiotics for 2 to 3 days.

    If your family stores their toothbrushes together—all in one cup or holder, for instance—you should get everyone new toothbrushes. Toothbrushes are much cheaper than doctor visits and antibiotics. (It’s also a good idea to thoroughly wash and dry your toothbrush holder.)

  • Young Caucasian girl in hospital bed smiling and holding teddy bear
    10. Tonsillectomy is sometimes recommended as a treatment for recurring strep throat.
    Years ago, surgical removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) was commonly recommended for children who frequently got strep throat. Today, most tonsillectomies are performed to treat obstructive sleep apnea, not strep throat. However, if a child has more than seven bouts of strep throat in a year or more than five bouts of strep each year over a period of two years, surgical removal of the tonsils may be recommended. A pediatrician can help you weigh the risks and benefits of surgery.

Strep Throat: 9 Things to Know | Strep Throat Symptoms & Treatment

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. Tonsillectomy Facts in the U.S. American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. https://www.entnet.org/content/tonsillectomy-facts-us-ent-doctors
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  5. Strep Throat: All You Need to Know. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html
  6. Strep Throat Complications. Michigan Medicine. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/rt1541
  7. Recurring Strep Throat: When is Tonsillectomy Useful? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/expert-answers/recurring-strep-throat/FAQ-20058360?p=1
  8. Bohr, C., & Shermetaro, C. (2020). Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy. Statpearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK
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Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.