Do I Have Strep Throat? Or Just a Sore Throat?

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When your throat hurts, it could be just a sore throat. Or it could be strep throat, an infection caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus bacteria (group A strep).

Strep throat is most common in children, but adults can get it, too. Your doctor can do a quick test to see if that painful throat is strep throat. If the answer is yes, taking antibiotics can help you feel better faster and stop it from spreading to others.

What Causes Strep Throat and Is It Contagious?

Strep throat is easily passed from person to person through fluids from the nose or saliva. Chances are if one person in the family has it, others will get it, too. People who are infected can spread the bacteria by coughing or sneezing, which creates airborne droplets. You can get sick if you:

  • Breathe in those droplets
  • Touch something with droplets on it and then touch your mouth or nose
  • Use the same glass or plate as a sick person
  • Touch sores on the skin cause by group A strep (impetigo)

The best way to keep from getting or spreading strep throat is to wash your hands often. You should also wash glasses, utensils, and plates after a sick person uses them.

Strep throat is easily passed from person to person through fluids from the nose or saliva. Chances are if one person in the family has it, others will get it, too.

Are Antibiotics Always the Best Treatment?

Most sore throats are caused by viruses, which can’t be killed by antibiotics. But if that aching throat turns out to be a strep infection, your doctor will most likely treat it with antibiotics, usually penicillin or amoxicillin. (If you have a penicillin allergy, you can take a different antibiotic.) Antibiotics P-W-WMN93362-Strep-Throat-smhelp by:

  • Decreasing how long you are sick
  • Easing your symptoms, making you feel better
  • Stopping the bacteria from spreading to others
  • Preventing serious complications

Be sure to take the medicine exactly as your doctor directs. Don’t stop taking it, even if you or your child feel better, unless your doctor tells you to. If you see no improvement within 48 hours, call your doctor.

Can Untreated Strep Throat Be Serious?

Dangerous complications from strep throat are rare. But if strep throat isn’t treated, the bacteria can spread and cause more serious illnesses, including:

  • Abscesses (pockets of pus) around the tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (a kidney disease)
  • Guttate psoriasis (a skin condition that causes small, red, scaly spots on your arms, legs, and trunk)

If you suspect strep throat, see your doctor right away to get tested and treated.

Small Steps: Spray Up Before You Go Out
Make it a habit to use insect repellent. You’ll reduce the risk of getting mosquito bites and the diseases that might come with them.