What is Strep Throat?
Strep throat (sore throat) is a common bacterial infection which leaves your throat feeling scratchy and painful. It’s more often occurring in children, although adults can be susceptible as well. (1)
A sore throat is an unpleasant condition that can be caused by many things, of which one is the streptococcus bacteria. Others include viruses, allergens, other bacteria, environmental irritants, like cigarette smoke, and post nasal drip.
Some sore throats will clear up of their own accord, however others may need medical intervention like antibiotics. (2)
Strep throat (sore throat) is caused by a bacteria called “group A streptococcus”. It is a highly contagious condition that spreads via airborne droplets, shared drinks, eating utensils or food.
It also spreads from surfaces like door handles or hand rails which have the bacteria on them. You touch them and then transfer bacteria from hands to mouth, nose or eyes.
Basically, inhaling droplets when someone infected coughs or sneezes, or touching surfaces where those droplets have landed transfers infection.
Strep throat (sore throat) is easily treated with antibiotics, however if left untreated, can lead to other complications. Also there are other things that can cause a sore throat. (3)
We will detail some of the risks associated with strep throat (sore throat) and also other factors that cause this symptom.
The tonsils are made up of lymphoid tissue and are situated one either side of the throat. The lymphatic system helps protect the body from infection.
These small masses are early warning indicators for the immune system. They are one of the first points of contact for germs entering the body through the mouth or nose.
Tonsils, when infected, become swollen, red and sore, covered in a yellow colored coating. The infection could be as a result of bacteria or a virus and usually clears up in a couple of weeks.
Tonsillitis can become chronic, returning several times a year when bacteria are permanently present and tonsils always inflamed. It could be that the tonsils eventually need to be surgically removed. (4)
Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory condition, can develop following strep throat (sore throat). It primarily manifests in children between the ages of six and sixteen, affecting the heart, nervous system, joints or skin.
This usually occurs about two to four weeks after an untreated streptococcal infection Accompanying a sore throat will be fever, headache and aching joints and muscles.
It can lead to rheumatic heart disease which inflames and scars the heart valves. (5)
This is another streptococcal infection presenting with a red skin rash accompanied by a sore throat and fever. One of the other tell tale signs of this infection is a dark red tongue, sometimes called strawberry tongue.
Again, if untreated, this can lead to rheumatic fever. (6)
Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis is a condition which can manifest up to two weeks after a strep throat (sore throat) infection. It is not a streptococcal infection in the kidneys but an inflammatory immune reaction.
When our immune system fights infection, antibodies are produced. These, along with the bacteria it is fighting against are flushed from the body via the kidneys. In this condition the filters (glomerulus) in the kidney block and it becomes inflamed and cannot work efficiently.
Signs of this condition are blood in urine and swelling in the extremities (edema). (7)
Laryngitis involves swelling or irritation of the voice box and vocal chords. It can be caused by allergies to dust, fumes or other irritants. Acid reflux, prolonged coughing or constant throat clearing can also contribute to this condition.
The symptoms of laryngitis include a hoarse and possibly croaky voice, you may even lose your voice. Persistent coughing, the need to always clear your throat and a sore throat are other signs of this condition. (8)
Glandular fever (mononucleosis) is a viral infection that affects mainly young adults and teenagers. This contagious disease develops slowly and the main virus involved is usually the epstein barr virus (EBV).
Sometimes referred to as the kissing disease, it will likely affect one in four young people who are infected with EBV.
The symptoms include extreme fatigue, swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck and armpits, fever, skin rash, aches and sore throat. (9)
The primary symptom of strep throat (sore throat) is pain in the whole of the throat and swallowing also becomes uncomfortably difficult. This symptom can appear quite quickly without any warning signs.
Examining your throat in a mirror might reveal swollen, red tonsils covered in a white or yellowish film. You might also see small red spots at the rear of the roof of your mouth.
The lymph nodes (glands) in your neck will be tender to the touch and swollen. It is not uncommon for the rest of your body to ache as well.
A headache, fever, rash and nausea are further symptoms that can manifest. (10)
Some people may also be allergic to the streptococcus bacteria and experience a skin rash called hives. This rash is itchy, red and raised, and can move around the skin, disappearing in one place to reappear in another. (11)
Sore throats will often get better by themselves within about a week. However, if the condition prevails or is giving you cause for concern you need to seek medical advice.
Your doctor will want to know your symptoms and how long you have had them. They will give you a physical examination.
This will include feeling around your neck and face, and also listening to your chest with a stethoscope. They will look inside your mouth and at the back of your throat.
There are tests that can be done to detect the presence of streptococcus bacteria in the throat.
Rapid Antigen Test
About 13 million people in the US will seek medical help each year for a sore throat. Detection of a “group A streptococcus” helps a physician decide if you need antibiotics to treat it.
A doctor will tilt your head back and ask you to open your mouth as wide as you can. A tongue depressor will be used to allow them to see clearly through to the throat. They will then use a cotton swab to brush across the tonsils, back of the throat or any red, swollen areas to collect a sample.
Whilst this may feel slightly uncomfortable, it only takes a few seconds. (12)
The swab is then placed in special chemicals which can detect the presence of streptococcal bacteria. This test takes about 15 minutes and has a 95 percent accuracy. (13)
This test involves taking a swab from the throat in the same way as done for a rapid test. The swab is then sent to a laboratory so they can grow a culture from it. This enables a specialist to identify the presence of bacteria, and which bacteria they are.
The results from this test take about two to three days. (14)
Blood tests can also be taken if it is suspected the sore throat is caused by glandular fever.
What is strep throat (sore throat)? Strep throat (Sore throat) is a common bacterial infection which leaves your throat feeling scratchy and painful.
What causes strep throat (sore throat)? Strep throat (sore throat) is caused by a bacterial infection, “group A streptococcus”. There are other things that can cause a sore throat like glandular fever, viral infections, irritants and laryngitis.
How do doctors test for strep throat (sore throat)? Following a physical examination a doctor will swab the back of your throat and tonsils. The swab can be used for a rapid antigen tests or throat culture to detect the presence of streptococcus. If glandular fever is suspected then blood tests can also be done.
When should you go to the doctors with strep throat (sore throat)? If your sore throat lasts more than a week or you are concerned about it then see your doctor. Difficulty breathing or swallowing, finding yourself drooling or making a high pitched sound when breathing are more serious warning signs. If any of these occur, or your symptoms are deteriorating rapidly or are severe, you need immediate medical attention. (15)
Can you prevent strep throat (sore throat)? Sometimes picking up an infection is unavoidable, there are however some things you can do to minimize the risk. Regularly washing your hands is one of the best ways to avoid getting strep throat (sore throat). Try not to share things like cups, water bottles, eating utensils and food. If you happen to have a sore throat, be considerate of others, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. (16)
What can relieve strep throat (sore throat)? There are over the counter medications like painkillers and lozenges that your pharmacist will be able to advise you about.
What can treat strep throat (sore throat)? Once diagnosed, antibiotics are effective in treating this infection. They should make you feel better within a few days. (17)
What are the complications of strep throat (sore throat)? Left untreated strep throat (sore throat) can lead to other conditions like tonsillitis, rheumatic fever or scarlet fever.
Strep throat (sore throat) is an infection of the throat caused by the streptococcal bacteria. It is a contagious condition that can be transmitted by inhalation or contact with infected surfaces.
The good news is it can be detected easily and treated quickly with antibiotic medication.