What is strep throat?
Strep throat is a condition where the throat is inflamed due to an infection that arises as a result of bacteria known as group A Streptococcus. The main feature is a sore throat. Inflammation of the throat, known as pharyngitis, can result from viral or bacterial infection. Of all bacterial infections of the throat, strep throat is the most common one. Strep throat can affect people of any age though it is more common in young children and teens. It is very contagious and spreads from an infected person to others through nasal secretions or saliva. It usually affects all members in a family once one individual catches the infection from some outside sources.
What are the symptoms of strep throat?
Symptoms of a strep throat usually appear 1 to 4 days after contracting the infection. The symptoms then develop rapidly. Some people might not show any symptoms even after having strep infection. Others, however, may show mild or severe symptoms. The following symptoms are commonly seen in strep throat:
- Difficulty swallowing, resulting occasionally into dehydration and headache
- Sore throat
- Swelling in lymph nodes on the sides of the neck
- Swelling and redness of tonsils
- White or yellow patches on the tonsils and on the back of the throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal tastes
- Stomach pain
- General discomfort or uneasiness
- Small red spots on the palate
- Loss of appetite
- Scarlet fever-like skin rash
- Loss of appetite, irritation, fussiness, fever and nasal discharge in infants (less common)
What causes strep throat?
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria cause infection resulting in strep throat. The S.pyogenes species of Streptococcus bacteria is most common species causing strep throat. Streptococcal bacteria attack the pharyngeal tissue. The resulting infection causes a localized inflammation in the pharynx. It is contagious and can easily be spread from person to person who is close contact.
How is the strep throat treated?
A viral infection, and not a bacterial one, is responsible for most of the cases of sore throat. Though viral infection presents similar symptoms, it goes away on its own without a treatment. A sore throat caused by bacterial infection or strep throat, however, needs to be differentiated from viral infection. Strep throat usually needs treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications.
Treatment at home aims at controlling the pain and managing other symptoms of strep throat.
- Drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Avoiding caffeine.
- Gargling with lukewarm salt water.
- Taking over-the-counter pain medications (like acetaminophen, ibuprofen) to provide relief from fever and pain.
- Getting adequate rest to speed up recovery.
Antibiotics are usually recommended in the cases of strep throat. Antibiotics destroy the bacteria thereby decreasing the duration of symptoms and contagiousness of the condition.
- Oral administration of penicillin or its derivatives (like amoxicillin)
- Macrolides (like erythromycin, azithromycin, and clarithromycin) in patients allergic to penicillin
In many individuals, strep throat resolves on its own after running its course even without medication. In some people, however, untreated strep throat can lead to serious complications (like acute rheumatic fever, ear infection, abscess formation, poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis, scarlet fever, and toxic shock syndrome).
Toxic shock syndrome is caused by toxins released by Group A Streptococcal bacteria. Though this condition is rare, it can be life-threatening and may result into multi-organ failure. Therefore medical treatment of strep throat is recommended in every instance even if a person complications have not arisen.