If you've had strep throat, you know exactly what it feels like: that awful sensation in your esophagus that feels like you've swallowed needles.
Strep throat is unpleasant, but it's not uncommon, especially at this time of year when we're all already trying to fight off colds and flus. Fortunately, the condition — caused by the strep A bacteria — is easy to treat and recovery is usually quick.
Here are 11 things you need to know about strep throat: what it is, how to treat it, and how to prevent getting it in the first place.
What Is It?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils. About 15 percent of the people with sore throats who are seen at doctors' offices are diagnosed with strep, according to Duane Reade.
What Causes It?
Streptococcal (strep) bacteria — specifically, group A streptococcus. There are different strains of strep bacteria, and some are more dangerous than others.
What Is It Not?
It's not just a sore throat. Strep throat is caused by a bacteria and in general, sore throats are not automatically strep throats. It's also not a cold, as symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and a runny or stuffy nose aren't generally associated with strep.
The most common symptoms of strep are sudden, severe throat pain, pain when swallowing, a fever above 101F or 38.3C, swelling in your tonsils and lymph nodes, and a bright red throat with white or yellow spots in the back. Some people with strep also have a headache or sore stomach, and occasionally you'll see a red rash on your skin, vomiting, lack of appetite, and body aches. The symptoms of strep generally start to appear within two to five days of exposure to the bacteria.
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How Does It Spread?
As it's caused by bacteria, strep throat is contagious. On top of that, you just don't have to kissing or sharing dishes with someone infected. When someone with strep sneezes, coughs, or even breathes, tiny droplets containing the bacteria go into the air, where they can be inhaled by other people. You are contagious for as long as you have symptoms of strep.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Doctors will do a physical exam and check for symptoms like swollen lymph nodes and a red throat, and ruling out other symptoms that could indicate a different illness. They can also do a rapid strep test or throat culture to test for the presence of the strep bacteria.
What's The Treatment?
Once your doctor has confirmed that you have strep throat, an antibiotic like penicillin or amoxicillin will be prescribed. The antibiotics reduce the amount of time that you are contagious and help prevent the spread of the infection to other parts of your body. Without antibiotics, you may be contagious for two or three weeks; most people who take them, however, are no longer contagious 24 hours after the start of treatment. Other people also experience relief from the symptoms of strep once they've started taking antibiotics. You can also talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain reliever to get some relief.
What About Natural Remedies?
While you're waiting for relief from the antibiotics, it can also help if you drink a lot of fluids and increase the humidity in your home. Teas that contain the herb licorice may also help to soothe your throat and warm tea with honey can also be helpful. And as with other illnesses, get the rest you need to allow your body to recover.
How Is It Prevented?
The best way to prevent strep throat is to avoid contact with anybody who has been diagnosed. As with preventing colds and other illnesses, wash your hands often and avoid sharing utensils and toothbrushes. Speaking of toothbrushes, get a new one if you've had strep — the germs on yours could reinfect you.
When Is It Most Common?
Strep throat can occur at any age, but it's most common in school-aged children and young teens. It also occurs most often during the school year, when kids are in close quarters inside, and during late winter and early spring, when people are most likely to be inside in poorly ventilated rooms.
Don't Leave It Untreated
If left untreated, strep throat can be dangerous: untreated strep throat is associated with complications like kidney disorder and rheumatic fever. Also, strep can spread to other parts of the body.
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