Strep throat is caused by streptococcal (strep) bacteria. The strep bacteria is spread by airborne droplets. This occurs with coughing or sneezing from infected people, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. The droplets can also be inhaled.
Strep throat may cause:
- Red, sore throat with white patches
- Swollen, sore glands in the neck
- Red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Painful, difficult swallowing
- Nausea and possibly vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle aches, especially in the neck, and abdominal pains, especially in younger children
- Swelling in back of mouth
Complications of untreated strep throat can be serious and include:
- Middle ear infection or sinus infection
- Peritonsillar abscess
- Bacterial meningitis
- Infective endocarditis
- Rarely, rheumatic fever and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders (PANDAS) associated with streptococcal infection
Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (kidney damage) is also rare, but it can occur, even with treatment
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may assume strep throat based on symptoms. Tests may be done to confirm. Tests may include:
- Rapid antigen strep screen—fast test that may not detect all strep throat.
- Throat culture—A sample of throat fluid is taken to a lab. It takes a few days to gets results.
- Rapid DNA test—results are usually available in 1 day. Can tell the difference between strep and other throat infections.
Most sore throats, including strep throat, will get better in 7 to 10 days. Although the sore throat disappears, the infection may remain. It is important to follow through with proper treatment to prevent serious complications.
Antibiotics will be given to treat the infection. They may be given as a pill or a shot. Symptoms will often fade in the first few days of treatment. It is important to take all of the antibiotics as prescribed.
Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers may also help.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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