6 Surprising Facts About Strep Throat: A Parent’s Guide

Health Conditions

6 Surprising Facts About Strep Throat: A Parent’s Guide

Ilima Loomis
By Ilima Loomis
Aug 19, 2019
A mom helping her daughter ride her bike after her daughter just recovered from strep throat

Most people associate summer with long days at the beach, family road trips, and maybe the occasional sunburn — not strep throat. But in fact, this highly contagious infection can be spread year-round, and, unlike school, it doesn’t take a break when the weather gets warm.

The painful throat, fever, and other symptoms that come with strep can derail plans for summer fun, so spotting symptoms and treating it quickly is key.

Here’s what you need to know to keep your family healthy:

Only 30 percent of sore throats in children are strep.

While most childhood sore throats are caused by viruses, around 3 in 10 are caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus, or strep.

Strep is highly contagious and spreads through tiny droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. While both viruses and strep can cause a sore throat, with strep, the sore throat is usually more severe, and it often begins suddenly. In addition, a virus often comes with other cold symptoms, like a cough and a runny nose.

Adults can get strep too.

You probably think of strep throat as a childhood illness, but it actually affects all ages. You can catch strep if an infected person coughs or sneezes on you, by sharing food or drinks, or by touching something an infected person sneezed on, like a doorknob, and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

You can’t spot strep by looking at it.

Your throat is scratchy and sore. It’s painful to swallow. Is it strep?

There are some signs that might make your provider suspicious — like fever, red, swollen tonsils, white spots in the throat, red spots on the roof of the mouth, and swollen glands in your neck.

Strep sometimes also causes headaches, rash, and nausea. Your doctor might order a quick rapid antigen test, which can detect signs of strep in a few minutes. If more confirmation is needed, they do a throat culture. For this test, your doctor will swab the back of your throat, and the culture will be grown in a lab to test for bacteria. You should get results in one to two days.

You need to take antibiotics exactly as they’re prescribed.

If your doctor confirms you have strep throat, antibiotics should clear up the infection, and you’ll probably start feeling better quickly.

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But even if your symptoms go away, it’s important that you follow the doctor’s instructions and take antibiotics exactly as they were prescribed, and finish all the medication.

If you stop early, the strep can come back, and it can lead to more serious complications. And if tests show your sore throat is not strep, don’t ask for antibiotics — they won’t help, and taking them unnecessarily could lead to side effects and increase antibiotic resistance. That’s because antibiotics work by killing bacteria; they have no effect on viruses.

Strep is highly contagious.

Left untreated, strep can spread quickly from person to person, and even after you start taking antibiotics, you can still be contagious for up to 24 hours. Prevent the spread of strep by staying home from work or school, covering coughs and sneezes, and having everyone in the house wash their hands frequently.

Home remedies can help you feel better.

Even though you’ll need antibiotics to eliminate strep, there’s a lot you can do to relieve symptoms while you wait.

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to take the edge off a sore throat (be cautious with giving aspirin to children or teens, as it’s associated with a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome, which causes swelling in the liver and brain).

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Get lots of rest, and drink plenty of water. Soft foods like scrambled eggs and broths are easy on the throat while eating something cold, like Jello or frozen pops, can be soothing. Finally, gargling with warm, salty water can help ease throat pain.

While strep throat can be a painful illness any time of the year, by catching it early and getting proper treatment, it doesn’t have to ruin your summer. If you or your child have symptoms of strep throat, call your provider for a diagnosis.

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at ilimaloomis.com. Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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