Strep Throat

Strep throat is an infection of the throat and upper respiratory tract, and can be highly contagious. The condition is most common among children and teenagers, but can also happen to adults. Just like most microorganisms, the strep throat bacteria can be contagious, and can be spread via sneezing, coughing or shaking hands with someone with strep throat. Hence, be sure to always take precaution when sneezing or coughing (such as sneezing into an elbow sleeve instead of the hand, using disposable tissue to cover your mouth, etc.), and to properly wash hands often to protect yourself and others.

Causes

Many times, people have used the term strep throat and sore throat interchangeably to characterize irritation of the throat during the flu or the cold. However, they are two different medical conditions. Sore throats are typical side effects of the common cold or flu, and can happen along with a runny nose, cough, congestion or a hoarse voice; it usually clears up by itself, and is caused by a virus. Strep throat, on the other hand, is an infection caused by the bacteria Group A Streptococcus. Having an inflamed or sore throat is one of the symptoms of strep throat.

Signs And Symptoms

Initial symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Red and/or white patches in the throat
  • Difficulty or pain swallowing
  • Tender or swollen lymph nodes (usually palpable) in the neck area
  • Red and enlarged tonsils

Strep throat usually leads to other additional signs and symptoms not associated with the throat. Some of them include:

  • Headache
  • Lower stomach pain
  • Fever
  • General discomfort and sensitivity of the body (ex: body aches)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Rash over the neck and chest that feels like sandpaper

If you suspect you are experiencing signs and symptoms of strep throat, be sure to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Complications

When signs and symptoms of strep throat are ignored and left untreated, it can lead to other, more serious medical complications. Some of them include:

  • Scarlet fever, which is characterized by severe rash all over the body
  • Kidney inflammation, also known as post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis. It can also lead to a myriad of serious health complications associated with the kidneys.
  • Rheumatic fever, which is a very serious condition that can further affect the heart, joints, nervous system, and skin
  • Ear infections, as the ear canal is interconnected with the sinus and throat area.
  • Guttate psoriasis, characterized by small, red, scaly spots on the arms, legs, and body.
  • Mastoiditis, which can cause pain and inflammation of the jaws
  • Peritonsillar abscess, which are deep, painful welts on the tonsils that can also lead to facial swelling, and in more serious cases, obstruct the airway altogether.
  • Sinusitis, as the nose and sinuses are connected with the throat. It is characterized by loss of smell, headache, and nasal congestion.

Diagnosis

If you visit your doctor with a sore throat, he or she will usually run a rapid strep test to see if a diagnosis of strep throat is present. A cotton swab will take a fluid and/or culture sample from the back of the throat, and results will appear in as little as 5 minutes. If the rapid strep test is not available, the doctor may also choose to send the sample to lab to do a throat culture to determine the presence of the Streptococcal bacteria. This form of diagnostic testing will take a few days.

Treatment

Medically, doctors may choose to prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the Streptococcal bacteria, depending on the patient’s medical history and allergies. Antibiotics commonly used to treat strep throat include penicillin, amoxicillin, cephalosporin, erythromycin, and azithromycin. To treat symptoms, the doctor may suggest the patient take over-the-counter pain and fever relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

No matter which antibiotic the doctor prescribes, it is extremely important to finish the entire prescribed amount of medication, even if you already feel better after the first few days of treatment. This will help prevent antibiotic resistant strains of Streptococcus that may spread to other parts of the body to wreck havoc.

Be sure to contact your health care provider if you suspect you have strep throat so you can receive treatment before it leads to other medical conditions. If signs and symptoms of strep throat do not go away within 2 days of receiving treatment, it is important to go back to the doctors to see if it is another medical condition.

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