Every year thousands of children and adults spend a miserable few days suffering from what they (or their parents) believe is a sore throat. In more than 35% of those cases though the sort throat turns out to be something a little more unpleasant -strep throat.
Strep throat — known in medical terms as Streptococcal pharyngitis, streptococcal tonsillitis, or streptococcal sore throat — is an infection and if and when strep throat symptoms are diagnosed as the disease then in most cases the patient needs to be treated with antibiotics before it will go away.
- Strep Throat Symptoms
- Strep Throat Symptoms in children and toddlers
- Diagnosing Strep Throat
- Strep Throat Treatment
- Sore Throat or Strep Throat?
- Strep Throat FAQs
It can be hard to determine whether someone has strep throat rather than a sore throat related to a cold or flu virus as some of the symptoms are very similar. In general though the symptoms of strep throat include:
- Severe and very painful sore throat without other symptoms of a cold like sneezing, sniffling or coughing
- Difficulty swallowing
- A marked fever
- Tender or even swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Yellowish or white patches on the tonsils, visible to the naked eye.
- General malaise, nausea and sometimes vomiting.
- A skin rash, a condition that is known as scarlet fever
Symptoms in children and adults do differ somewhat. While it is rare for streptococcal tonsillitis to occur in young babies it strikes toddlers quite hard. Toddlers will often complain of abdominal pain and a difficulty swallowing as well as a sore throat. If they run a fever of 101 or above it is also a good indicator that the symptoms they are displaying are strep throat symptoms as a lower fever is more common with viral infections like colds.
Older kids and teens are often the hardest hit when streptococcal throat infection occurs. Their throat pain tends to be worse as so symptoms of strep throat like lymph node swelling and fever.
Step throat is usually a child’s disease, occuring most often in the 5-15 age group but adults can, and do, contract it, but in a milder form.
As previously, mentioned it can be very hard for the layman to distinguish between sore throat symptoms and strep throat symptoms so a visit to the doctor for diagnostic testing is really called for.
These days there are several ways that a case of strep throat can be diagnosed:
ThroatCulture — For decades a throat culture, obtaining by swabbing the back of a patients throat and then sending the sample to a lab for testing, has been the standard tool for diagnosing strep throat. While accurate it can take up to two days for the results to come in.
Rapid AntigenTesting — Rapid antigen testing is used in many doctors’ offices these days as it offers immediate results, allowing a physician to start a patient’s treatment right away. The test looks for antigens (foreign bodies) in a sample, indicating the presence of strep throat. The downside of this test is that it can miss a case of streptococcal throat infection that is in the early stages so many doctors still order a throat culture anyway if a patient seems to be displaying strep throat symptoms but the antigen test comes up negative.
DNATesting — Rapid DNA testing is fast and as accurate as a throat culture in diagnosing sore throat symptoms as strep throat or not. It is expensive though and not widely available at the moment.
Usually if testing determines that a patient does indeed have streptococcal throat infection then they will be prescribed a course of antibiotics. Parents should note that antibiotics will only help cure strep throat, they are useless against a sore throat, which is the result of a virus and doctors should not be asked to prescribe antibiotics if a strep throat test is negative, as the over prescription of antibiotics is a real problem these days.
Especially for busy parents distinguishing between a sore throat and possible strep throat that requires a visit to the doctor. In general though an alogorithm like this can help:
- Are the child’s lymph nodes swollen or tender? A yes to this question increases the likelihood that the sore throat symptoms are actually strep throat symptoms.
- Are there exudates (yellow or white spots) on the tonsils or back of the throat? These are almost always present when a patient has strep throat.
- Does the patient have a fever of over 101? The higher the fever the more likely that a patient has strep, rather than just a sore throat.
- Is the patient also sneezing, sniffling and coughing? These symptoms tend to indicate a viral infection like a cold instead.
- Is strep throat infectious? - In a word yes, if children and adults are in close contact with one another. It can also be spread by sneezing and coughing.
- When should you see a doctor about what you think are strep throat symptoms? – If you have gone through the algorithm above and it seems likely that the patient has strep throat symptoms rather than sore throat symptoms they should be taken to their doctor for testing. Left untreated streptococcal throat infection can lead to other complications.
- Do only children get strep throat? – It is most common in children but adults can contract it, especially if they have children who have already been diagnosed with strep throat. The severity of strep throat in adults is usually milder than in children but ideally a doctor should still be consulted and testing carried out.
- How can you avoid catching strep throat? – Good hygiene at all times is the best protection against strep throat. Frequent hand washing is always a good idea and you should avoid close contact with an infected person. A good diet helps boost the immune system so plenty of fruits and vegetables are essential as well.
- Dentist’s Guide to Medical Conditions and Complications. Author: Kanchan M. Ganda
- Algorithmic diagnosis of symptoms and signs: a cost-effective approach. Author: R. Douglas Collins