Health Library

Definition

Strep throat is a type throat infection that causes a sore throat. Although the term is commonly used, very few sore throats are strep throat.

Sore Throat Due to Inflammation


Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Strep throat is caused by a specific bacteria. The bacteria enter through inhaled air droplets and grow in the throat causing the infection and symptoms.

The strep bacteria is spread by airborne droplets, most often from coughs or sneezes of infected people or touching a contaminated surface then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Risk Factors

Strep throat is more common in children and adolescents. Other factors that increase the risk of strep throat include:

  • Exposure to family member or friend who has strep throat
  • Crowded living situations
  • Having strep living in the throat—occurs in 15% to 30% of people
Symptoms

Strep throat may cause:

  • Red, sore throat with white patches
  • Headache
  • Swollen, sore glands in the neck
  • Fever
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Painful, difficult swallowing
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and possibly vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches, especially in the neck, and abdominal pains, especially in younger children
  • Swelling in back of mouth

Complications of untreated strep throat can be serious and include:

Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis is also rare, but it can occur, even with treatment

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests to confirm strep throat may be used and include:

  • Rapid antigen strep screen—Antigens are a part of the body's immune response to specific infection. This test can identify antigens within a few minutes of the test. However, a negative test does not mean you do not have strep throat, the body may not have had enough time to make antigens yet.
  • Throat culture—A sample of throat fluid is taken to a lab to see if strep bacteria grows. It takes a few days to gets results.
  • Rapid DNA test—DNA technology is used to detect strep throat. This test is as accurate as throat culture. The results are usually available in one day.

Only a rapid DNA test or throat culture can confidently distinguish strep throat from throat infections caused by other things. Doctors will often make a diagnosis and decide about treatment based on symptoms, physical findings, and test results.

Treatment

Most sore throats, including strep throat, will get better on its own in 7-10 days. Although the sore throat disappears, the infection may remain. It is important to follow through with proper treatment to prevent serious complications.

Medications

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Antibiotics may be given as a pill or a shot. Symptoms will often fade in the first few days of medication, but it is important to take all of the antibiotics as prescribed.

Your doctor may advise over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers to ease symptoms.

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.

Prevention

To reduce your chances of getting strep throat:

  • Wash your hands carefully.
  • Don't share beverages or food.
  • Avoid exposure to other people who may have a strep infection.
  • Replace your toothbrush after starting antibiotic treatment to prevent re-infecting yourself.

If you have recurrent strep infections in your family, check to see if someone is a carrier. Strep carriers have the infection in their throat, but do not get sick. It is possible to treat the carrier to prevent the infection from making others sick.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entnet.org

FamilyDoctor.org—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

About Kids Health
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References:

Cecil RL, Goldman L, Bennett JC. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.

Ebell MH, Smith MA, Barry HC, Ives K, Carey M. Does the patient have strep throat? JAMA. 2000; 284:2912-2918.

Montagnani F, Stolzuoli L, Croci L, et al.Erythromycin resistance in Streptococcus pyogenes and macrolide consumption in a central Italian region. Infection. 2009 Aug;37(4):353-357.

Neuner JM, Hamel MB, Phillips RS, Bona K, Aronson MD. Diagnosis and management of adults with pharyngitis. A cost effectiveness study. Ann Intern Med. 2003;139:113-122.

Pace B. JAMA patient page. Strep throat. JAMA. 2000;284(22):2964.

Ressel G. Practice guidelines: principles of appropriate antibiotic use: part IV: acute pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(5):870-875.

Sore throats. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/soreThroats.cfm. Accessed October 12, 2005.

Strep throat. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/strep-throat/DS00260. Accessed November 10, 2007.

Streptococcal pharyngitis. DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com. Accessed November 10, 2007.



Last reviewed September 2013 by David Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Baptist Flame

Baptist Health Systems

Find A Doctor

Services

Locations

Baptist Medical Clinic

Patients & Visitors

Learn

Contact Us

Physician Tools

Careers at Baptist

Employee Links

Online Services

At Baptist Health Systems

At Baptist Medical Center

close ×