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Is It a Sore Throat or Strep

  • Category: Health & Wellness
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Lompoc Valley Medical Center

It’s starting to be the time of year when head colds, sore throats, runny noses and the like are prevalent. Strep throat is a common type of sore throat for children, but not as much for adults.

Strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep).

Physicians such as myself can do a quick test to see if a sore throat is a more serious concern like strep. Antibiotics are a useful intervention to help you feel better and prevent the spread of the infection.

Group A Strep live in our noses and throats and spread easily to other people. The bacteria spreads by an infected person coughing or sneezing – those small, almost invisible droplets contain bacteria and infect others. That makes it even more important that you “cover your cough.”

Those droplets can cause another person to get sick if they are breathed in, or if someone touches something with the droplets on it. You can also get sick from using the same glass or plate as a sick person.

Though strep throat is considered by physicians to be a mild infection, it can be very painful to those with symptoms.

The most common symptoms you’ll experience are:

  • A sore throat that starts quickly
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Fever
  • Swollen and red tonsils. Sometimes there will be white patches visible on the tonsils.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck

There are other symptoms, of course. You may have a headache, stomach pain, and nausea. Strep throat can sometimes lead to a rash called “scarlet fever.”

Though physicians can look into your throat for some more obvious signs, it does take a rapid strep test or throat culture to determine if group A strep is the cause of your illness.

During a rapid strep test, we’ll swab your throat and test the swab. It is a relatively quick test. Once we get a positive result, we can prescribe an antibiotic to help you on the path to healing.

If the initial test is inconclusive, we can conduct a throat culture swab. That takes a little longer, we have to wait to see if the bacteria grow on the swab. This type of test also helps us, because children and teenagers may be subject to rheumatic fever if they have an untreated strep throat. Adults are usually not at risk in these cases.

The antibiotics should make the ill person feel better within a day or so. Penicillin or amoxicillin are recommended as the first choice for people who are not allergic to penicillin. We can use other antibiotics to treat strep throat for those who are allergic to penicillin.

Antibiotics will help decrease how long you might be sick and help lessen the symptoms. The use of antibiotics will also help prevent the spread of bacteria.

The best way to keep from getting or spreading group A strep is to wash your hands often; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; wash utensils and plates after a sick person has used them and stay home from work, school or daycare if you have strep.