Table of Contents
Strep throat is an inflammatory infection developed in your throat. The infection is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria (also called group A strep). Those microorganisms live harmlessly on the skin and in the throat of most individuals, adults as children. Due to certain pathogenic factors, those bacteria overgrow and cause infection. Strep throat can affect people at any age; however, it is more common among children, especially children 5 to 15 years. The infection tends to be prevalent during school period when children grouped together.
While Strep is not considered as a life threatening illness, it is very important that the infection is treated early to prevent major complications. In addition to serious sore throat, the infection can lead to severe kidney problems, rheumatic fever and heart valve damage.
Strep Throat Infection Causes
Strep throat is caused by A streptococcal bacteria (also known as streptococcus pyogenes), a group of bacteria that is responsible for not only throat infection but also skin infections such as impetigo. Group A streptococcus is very contagious, and the transmission is done either by direct and indirect contact.
Direct contact – you can be contaminated by strep throat if you have been in contact with the saliva, nasal secretions or skin sore of an infected person. A simple kiss on the cheek of an infected person cannot cause the transmission; the infection can occur if you kiss the person intimately (wet kiss). In addition, you can be contaminated if you shake the hands of someone that carry the germ.
Indirect contact – a person suffering from Strep throat carries the germs in his/her nose and mouth. When he/she speaks, sneeze or cough, the germs spread into the air and become potential to infect others. In addition, certain objects are considered as carriers of Strep germs: doorknob, kitchen utensils, bathroom objects, etc.
Some of common factors that increase your risk of Strep throat include:
Lifestyle – smoking or heavy alcohol consumption tends to damage the lining of your throat and not only increase your risk of strep throat, but also other bacterial infections, including oral cancer.
Weakened immune system – if you have a weak immune defense, you have a greater risk of strep throat. Some common immunosuppressive diseases include but not limited to HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer and its treatment. Using corticosteroid medicines is also a risk factor.
Hospital – hospital represents a high risk of strep throat because it is occupied by people vulnerable to infection. Care providers and patients are often carriers of streptococcal bacteria
Strep Throat Infection Symptoms
In general, if you or your child has streptococcal infection, the following symptoms will likely occur:
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Difficulty swallowing
- High pulse
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in the neck
- uneasiness or ill feeling
- Tiny red spots on the soft or hard palate
- Fever, which may be accompanied by nausea and stomachaches.
Although rare, strep throat can be associated with:
- Neck pain
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle pain
- Abnormal taste
- Nasal congestion
- Nasal discharge.
In addition, these signs, however, do not automatically mean that you or your child has strep throat. Other diseases may be characterized by similar symptoms. If despite home or alternative remedies, these symptoms persist for more than 48 hours, it is very important to see your doctor to prevent complications.
Although uncommon, strep throat can cause serious complications if left untreated; some of them include:
- Foul breath
- Dry cough
- Scarlet Fever (also called scarlatina, rash covers most of your body)
- Ear infection
- Sinus infection
- Glomerulonephritis or kidney inflammation
- Acute rheumatic fever
- Cardiac problems.
In general, physical exam along with lab tests are done to diagnose strep throat, a simple look at the symptoms is not enough to confirm the disease.
Physical examination – during the physical exam, your health care provider will look for signs and symptoms of streptococcal infection. To examine the throat, the physician will use a tongue depressor and asks you or the child to say “aaah.” This allows him/her to examine the tonsils and uvula easily. Detection of redness, swelling, small blue spots on the soft palate, and white streaks or pus on the tonsils reveal strep throat.
However, it is not accurate for your doctor to diagnose strep throat simply by looking at the throat; specific tests are needed.
Throat culture – a throat culture is a painless method used to detect streptococcus bacteria and some other bacteria on your throat. During the test, the physician takes a sample of your throat secretions and sends it to a laboratory for analysis. Usually, the result is ready in two days.
Rapid antigen test – Although throat culture is the standard method to diagnose strep throat, a rapid streptococcus antigen test is often used to quickly diagnose the infection. The result of this test is usually ready within minutes, which eliminate the need for bacterial throat culture.
Rapid DNA test – Rapid DNA test is a new method used to identify strep throat infection. This test is quicker, however, as accurate as throat culture.
Strep Throat Infection Treatment
Most streptococcal infection goes away on its own without any treatment. Some infections, however, are severe and are prone to complications if not treated. In this case, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics such as:
- Clarithromycin (Biaxin)
- Amoxicillin (Amoxil, Trimox)
- Cephalosporin (Keflex, Ceclor)
- Azithromycin (Zithromax)
- Clindamycin (Cleocin).
However, antibiotherapy should not be used if it is not necessary. Taking antibiotic very often or for a long period of time can weaken your immune system (or that of your child) and makes you more vulnerable to other infection or complications. In case your doctor decides to treat you with antibiotics, it is important that you (or your child) follow the treatment as prescribed. In general, in less than 48 hours after taking the medications, you are supposed to feel better; it is not a reason to discontinue the therapy.
Children may forget to take their medications; it the responsibility of the parent to assure that the mediations are taken as recommended.
In case the disease is associated with pain and fever, you may be prescribed analgesics (pain killers) such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Do not let your child abuse those drugs; stop taking them as soon as the pain is gone. It is advised not to give aspirin to your child even if he/she has sore throat or fever.
Chamomile – (also called Matricaria recutita, German chamomile, Hungarian chamomile or true chamomile) carmomille can be used as a gargle, tea or capsule. Used regularly, this plant can provide a significant relief even in the more severe strep throat.
Licorice – Licorice is flavorful herb that has been used in medicinal remedies for centuries; it is used effectively against throat problems including strep throat. It can be taken as a tea or gargle.
Sage and thyme – sage and thyme, used as a gargle or tea, are very effective in fighting strep throat. In fact, these herbs can provide good results even in the most severe strep. Sage boots your immunity; which means, it can be useful if you are taking antibiotics which often weaken your immune system.