WHAT IS IT?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat that can make it feel sore and scratchy. It’s most common in kids between ages 5 and 15, but it affects people of all ages.
The cause of strep throat is bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus. Some people are carriers of strep, which means they can pass the bacteria on to others, but the bacteria aren’t making them sick.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Throat pain and difficulty swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
- Tiny red spots at the back of the roof of the mouth
- Swollen, tender lymph glands in the neck
- Stomachache and sometimes vomiting
A cough and hoarse voice generally aren’t associated with strep throat.
WHAT TESTS TO EXPECT
A doctor will check your throat for redness, swelling, and white streaks or pus on the tonsils. Laboratory tests to identify strep often include:
- Throat culture. A sterile swab is rubbed over the back of the throat and tonsils to get a sample of the secretions. The sample is cultured in a laboratory for the presence of bacteria. Results can take as long as two days.
- Rapid antigen test. While waiting for a throat culture, your doctor may order a rapid antigen test on the swab sample. This test can detect strep bacteria in minutes. But rapid strep tests may miss some strep throat infections. For this reason, many doctors use both tests — a rapid antigen test for quick results and a throat culture to confirm the results.
The main treatment for strep throat is an antibiotic medication. Drugs commonly prescribed include:
- Amoxicillin. It’s often a preferred option for children because it tastes better than penicillin and is available as a chewable tablet.
- Penicillin. In a young child who is having a hard time swallowing or is vomiting, penicillin can be given by injection.
Once treatment begins, you or your child should start feeling better in a day or two, but it’s crucial to finish the prescription. Children taking an antibiotic who feel well and don’t have a fever can often return to school or child care 24 hours after beginning treatment.
In addition to an antibiotic, these tips may help relieve symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep helps your body fight infection.
- Drink plenty of water. Keeping a sore throat moist eases swallowing. Water also helps prevent dehydration.
- Eat soothing foods. Foods that are easy on a sore throat include broths, soups, applesauce, cooked cereal, mashed potatoes, soft fruits and yogurt. Very cold foods such as sherbet, frozen yogurt or frozen fruit pops also may be soothing on a sore throat.
- Gargle with warm saltwater. For older children and adults, gargling several times a day can help relieve throat pain. Mix 1 teaspoon table salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Make sure to tell your child to spit out the liquid after gargling.
- Use a humidifier. Moisture keeps mucous membranes in your throat from becoming dry and even more irritated. Choose a cool-mist humidifier and clean it daily, because bacteria and molds can flourish in some humidifiers. Saline nasal sprays also help to keep mucous membranes moist.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.