Having a sore throat is something everyone goes through multiple times throughout their life. An uncommon but unpleasant cause of this symptom is strep throat. Infections can occur with surprising speed and are capable of causing significant complications if left untreated.
There are natural remedies for strep throat; but looking out for the symptoms of strep throat are especially important since the disease can commonly be mistaken for other conditions, such as the cold or flu.
What Causes Strep Throat?
You have likely come into contact with the Streptococcus bacteria at some point in your life and may in fact be playing host to this organism right now—about 20% of healthy people experience no ill effects when they contract this bacteria. During certain periods of immune weakness, this otherwise benign bacterium can begin to trigger localized inflammation within the body.
Reactions are most common in children, with adults making up anywhere between five to 10% of cases. Although asymptomatic carriers (those with the bacteria but no symptoms) are common, only active infections can spread the disease directly.
Is Strep Throat Contagious?
Yes. It is important to note that someone who has experienced a recent strep infection will still be contagious for several days after they stop showing symptoms. Keep the following in mind:
- Strep is spread when the bacteria enters the eyes, nose, or mouth. This usually involves sharing food or drinks or by inhaling infected droplets that are released when someone coughs or sneezes.
- The bacteria can also be spread when someone touches an infected surface (like a doorknob) and then their face.
- Since strep infections benefit most from proximity, cases are most common during the colder months between late fall and early spring when people are huddled indoors together. It can take anywhere from two to five days for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms of Strep Throat
As mentioned above, the symptoms of strep throat can overlap with those of a cold or flu. Like these other conditions, strep can cause a sore throat, fever, headache, and sometimes nausea or vomiting. Unlike a cold or the flu, strep has a number of additional symptoms you need to keep an eye out for.
Strep throat symptoms in adults include:
- Pain when swallowing
- Swollen, red tonsils that may have streaks of white
- Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
- General body aches
- Swollen and/or tender lymph nodes on the neck
Most tellingly, strep throat does not come with a cough or a stuffy or runny nose like a cold or flu might. Strep also arrives suddenly and symptoms are capable of appearing seemingly overnight.
Although strep throat is the most common bacterial source of sore throats, sore throats overall are most often the result of viral infections. It is important to pay attention to the symptoms you are showing and report them to your doctor so they can make an accurate diagnosis. Antiviral treatments do not work on strep.
Strep Throat Complications
Strep throat in and of itself is not much more dangerous than the cold or flu; however, if allowed to persist, the bacteria responsible can spread elsewhere in the body. The tonsils, sinuses, skin, blood, and middle ear are the most common places the strep bacteria can spread to.
Depending on location and your body’s response, this can result in abscesses, or additional conditions like scarlet fever, or autoimmune diseases like rheumatic fever. In the worst (and rare) case, strep bacteria entering the bloodstream can trigger a potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome. Since strep infections can take up to three weeks to go away on their own, treatment is highly encouraged to minimize the chance of developing one of these complications.
Home Remedies for Strep Throat
Due to the importance of eliminating the bacteria as quickly as possible, it is highly advisable that you follow your doctor’s instructions and take any antibiotics that they prescribe. Having said that, there are several home treatment options you can employ to make the disease more bearable while the medicine does its work:
- Hydration: Dehydration is always a risk to keep in mind when suffering from a fever. Improving your fluid intake helps prevent this and also serves to lubricate and moisten your throat. This will help ease the pain and make swallowing easier. Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air can also help.
- Gargling or lozenges: Gargle with warm salt water to help relieve throat pain—just make sure to spit out the salt water. Alternatively, a lozenge may be used to help soothe the throat.
- Rest: Sleep helps the immune system work best. Take time to get adequate sleep and rest during the course of the infection.
- Soothing foods: Soft, easy-to-swallow foods like pureed fruits, soups, mashed potatoes, and yogurt will help prevent throat irritation. Cold foods like ice cream can also be used and are encouraged since they can sometimes further soothe the throat. Herbal teas can be employed as well and there are several varieties that are formulated specifically to ease sore throats.
- Avoiding irritants: Spicy or acidic foods are best abstained from due to their ability to aggravate the throat. Fumes like cigarette smoke or cleaning products can agitate the nasal passages and throat too. Scented products (like soap or air fresheners) may be safe, but generally speaking anything with a harsh or overly strong scent should be avoided during the infection.
When to See Your Doctor
As mentioned, strep throat is capable of causing some potentially serious complications. Unlike the initial strep infection, which can arise suddenly, complications are most likely to emerge around two to four weeks after the initial infection. During this period, speak to your doctor if any of the following symptoms appear:
- A red rash that feels like sandpaper
- Swelling of the throat/tonsils begins interfering with sleep
- Joint pain
- Raised rash or red lumps
- Fever lasting longer than 48 hours or that is higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius)
- Uncontrolled jerking movements in the limbs
- Shortness of breath
- General muscle weakness
Sources for Today’s Article:
Doerr, S., “Strep Throat,” EMedicineHealth web site, January 9, 2015; http://www.emedicinehealth.com/strep_throat/article_em.htm#strep_throat_definition.
“Strep Throat,” WebMD web site, November 14, 2014; http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/tc/strep-throat-topic-overview.
“Strep Throat,” Mayo Clinic web site, December 16, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/home/ovc-20165963.