Many factors can contribute to a scratchy, painful sensation in your throat. Environmental allergies, post nasal drip, exposure to cigarette smoke are among the non-infectious etiologies. Infections due to viruses are very common, and many sore throats will get better without antibiotic treatment.
But a small portion of sore throats come from Strep throat, a more serious ailment caused by Group A Streptococcal bacteria.
Group A Streptococcus is spread through contact with droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes. A person may also become infected after touching an open skin sore caused by the bacteria. If you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth you may become sick. It is easily spread in schools, day care settings, and among family members. It may occur at any time of the year but more commonly in the late fall and early spring.
Strep throat generally occurs in people between the ages of 5 and 15, but may be seen at any age. Symptoms of Strep throat commonly include:
- Sore throat which may start rapidly and cause severe pain upon swallowing.
- Fever which may be 101 degrees or above.
- Swollen, red tonsils which may have white patches or pus, as well as red spots on the roof of the mouth.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
- Body aches or rash.
- Headache, nausea, or vomiting may also be present.
A person should seek medical care if a sore throat lasts longer than 48 hours, and is accompanied by tender, swollen glands and a fever. It is especially important if the sore throat is accompanied by rash, problems breathing, or difficulty swallowing. If left untreated, Strep can cause complications. These include kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever, which is associated with a rash, arthritis, and damage to heart valves.
Your health-care provider cannot make the diagnosis of Strep throat simply by looking into your mouth. A Strep test is needed to tell if you have strep throat. A sterile swab is used to take a sample of secretions from the back of the throat. A rapid antigen test can be performed to get a faster result within minutes. If the test is positive, antibiotic treatment can be initiated right away.
However, if the rapid test is negative, the sample can be sent for culture, to help confirm the diagnosis.
Many antibiotics can be used to treat Strep throat. Most commonly, Penicillin or Amoxicillin is used. These medicines can reduce the severity and duration of illness, and also decrease the risk of complications. If there is a Penicillin allergy, alternative medications such as Cephalexin, Azithromycin, or Clindamycin can be used. Most patients will feel better within 24-48 hours after treatment is initiated, and can return to work or school. However, it is important to complete the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed, since stopping too early can lead to recurrence or complications.
Lisa A. Pittarelli is a doctor with the Hillsborough-based ID Care