physician tests female child for strep throat
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Strep Test: Is it Strep or a Sore Throat?

Dec 5 2018
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Here’s how to know if you should go to the doctor for strep throat

Strep throat is a sore throat that’s infected with a type of bacteria called Group A Streptococcus. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out if you or your child has a regular sore throat or strep throat. You may think it’s a sore throat when it’s strep, and vice versa. Your doctor can help diagnose this condition with a simple test.

Who is most likely to get strep throat?

School-aged children and teenagers are more likely to get strep throat than adults. But because strep throat is highly contagious, adults often get it too.

Strep throat is common during the school year when kids spend more time indoors together. Often, kids carry the Group A Streptococcus bacteria in their throats or on their skin. Some children who carry the bacteria don’t show any symptoms, but others do. Although the bacteria can spread easily from one person to another, washing your hands often reduces the spread of strep throat bacteria.

Risk factors for strep throat

If you think that you or your child has strep throat, it’s important to get treatment. Without treatment, strep throat can create a pus-filled sore in your throat. It can also turn into scarlet fever. Scarlet fever typically affects children between 5 and 15 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If it’s not treated with medicine, scarlet fever can cause long-term health problems, such as ear or lung infections or rheumatic fever.

Common signs of strep throat

Adults with strep throat may have milder symptoms than children. Common signs of strep throat include:

  • Sharp pain when swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • A sore throat that comes on quickly
  • A fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Unusual red spots or white patches in the back of the mouth or on the tongue

You or your child may also have less-common symptoms. These include a headache, stomach pain or nausea. It’s probably a typical sore throat from a virus if symptoms only include a cough, runny nose or hoarse voice.

Who can diagnose strep throat?

If you think you or your child has strep throat, call your doctor or an ear, nose and throat specialist. A healthcare professional takes a simple throat culture by swabbing the throat and tonsils. The doctor puts the culture into a machine that analyzes the bacteria. The machine gives results in several minutes. The doctor may also send the culture to a lab to see if strep bacteria are present.

Treatments for strep throat

The treatment for a confirmed case of strep throat is antibiotics. You can take antibiotic pills, or your doctor might give you an injection of antibiotics. There are several different antibiotics that can treat strep throat, including:

  • Penicillin
  • Amoxicillin
  • Cephalosporins
  • Macrolides, including the Z-pack

It’s important to take all the antibiotics your doctor prescribes you. Only taking some of the medicine could cause your symptoms to return. Watch for side effects while taking antibiotics. If a rash, swelling or breathing problems develop, it could be an allergic reaction to the medicine. Though strep throat may clear up without antibiotics, it’s possible the infection could lead to problems.

Recovery from strep throat

Strep throat usually improves a day or two after starting antibiotics. During this period, you or your child should stay home to avoid spreading strep. If your symptoms get worse, call your doctor right away. Sometimes strep throat bacteria are resistant to one kind of antibiotic. If that happens, your doctor can prescribe another type of antibiotic.

While recovering from strep throat, make sure you or your child don’t share dishes, glasses or towels with anyone else. Don’t share food or drinks with someone who has strep throat. When the course of antibiotics is over, typically the strep throat is gone.

That sore throat might not go away on its own. Visit Mercy.com to find a primary care doctor or specialist. We’ll help diagnose your sore throat and get you on the road to recovery.


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