A sore throat can be caused by:
- A bacteria (think: strep throat)
- A virus (think: common cold or flu)
- Seasonal allergies
Strep throat only accounts for a small percentage of sore throats. But, if left untreated, it can lead to other complications.
So, how do you know if your sore throat is strep throat? What are the symptoms? How is it diagnosed? When should you see your provider?
University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic resident physician Nouchee Vang, MD, answers some frequently asked questions about strep throat.
What is streptococcal pharyngitis or strep throat?
Strep throat is an infection caused by a bacteria that can make your throat feel sore or scratchy. It is more common in children than adults, but adults can get it too. It typically occurs in late winter and early spring.
What are the symptoms of strep throat?
- A sore or scratchy throat that usually comes on quickly (with the absence of coughing)
- Large red tonsils or white patches at the back of the throat
- Swollen, tender bumps (lymph nodes) in your neck
- A fever greater than 100.4F
- Painful swallowing
How is strep throat diagnosed?
Your provider will examine you and swab the back of your throat with a Q-tip. The swab will be tested for the presence of the streptococcal bacteria.
There are two types of strep tests: one providing results within minutes (a rapid strep test), one providing results within 24-48 hours (a throat culture).
How is strep throat treated?
Most patients with strep throat will get better within three to five days, even without antibiotics. However, taking an antibiotic can prevent the bacteria from spreading to other people and prevent rare complications.
Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen can be taken for pain and fever. Ongoing throat pain can be treated with medicated lozenges or numbing throat sprays.
It is important to stay hydrated when you’re ill. Try drinking soup and teas. Younger children can be offered popsicles.
If I have strep throat, should my family be treated?
Any family member with a sore throat should be tested and treated if their test is positive.
How can I prevent strep throat from spreading?
Wash your hands frequently to prevent spreading the bacteria.
If I have strep throat, should my tonsils be removed?
A tonsillectomy may be indicated if you have multiple throat infections within one year. Talk to you doctor about any concerns.
If my throat feels sore, when should I call the clinic?
If you are concerned that you may have strep throat, call the clinic at 612-302-8200 to schedule an appointment. The clinic offers same and next day appointments.
Return to see your provider if symptoms do not improve within one week of taking antibiotics or if you develop a new rash or experience difficulty breathing/swallowing after taking medication.
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For more information about strep throat, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.