Can Strep Throat Cause An Earache?

The symptoms of strep throat closely resemble those associated with the flu or common cold. In most cases, ear pain is caused by an ear infection or congestion in the sinuses, which are not symptoms of a bacterial infection such as strep. However, if it isn’t treated with antibiotics, strep can lead to an ear infection, which may result in ear pain.

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What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a type of bacterial infection characterized by sores in the back of the throat. It often causes a painful sore throat that may be accompanied by other symptoms. Strep can go away on its own within seven days, but taking antibiotics can speed up the process and reduce the risk of complications.  

Symptoms

A sore throat isn’t the only unpleasant symptom associated with strep. Symptoms can range from hoarseness to swollen lymph nodes.

Other symptoms include:

  • Dry, scratchy, or itchy throat

  • Fever

  • Swollen tonsils

  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth

Causes

You may get strep throat if you come into contact with Streptococcus pyogenes,¹, or group A streptococcus. The condition is most common in school-aged children and adults who are often around children. It typically takes two to five days after exposure for symptoms to develop.

Notably, some carriers don’t develop any symptoms at all. Those who are symptomatic are more contagious than those who aren't. 

You may pick up strep by:

  • Inhaling contaminated respiratory droplets

  • Drinking or eating after someone who is infected

  • Touching a shared surface with bacteria on it and then touching your mouth or nose

  • Touching sores caused by strep bacteria (impetigo)

Diagnosis

Strep throat is diagnosed through a medical exam. A doctor will swab your throat and test for the presence of bacteria. A secondary test may be necessary if the results come back negative, but the doctor still believes you have strep throat. 

Risk factors

Anyone can get strep throat, but certain groups face a significantly higher risk, including:

  • School-aged children

  • Elderly people

  • Adults who work with children or have school-aged children

Complications

Complications of strep aren’t common, but they can be serious (and, in rare cases, fatal).  

Possible complications include:

  • Abscesses around the tonsils or neck

  • Rheumatic fever (which can affect the heart, brain, joints, and skin)

  • Sinus infections

  • Ear infections

  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (a kidney problem that can lead to long-term kidney damage or failure)

Prevention

You can help prevent the spread of strep throat by following the CDC's guidelines, 

which include:

  • Washing your hands after sneezing or coughing, before and after preparing food, before eating, and after using the restroom

  • Coughing into your sleeve or a tissue instead of your hand

  • Taking antibiotics if your doctor prescribes them

  • Avoiding close contact with someone who has strep

Can strep throat cause ear pain?

Strep throat does not cause ear pain but can lead to a painful ear infection. Since strep throat is a throat infection, the bacteria can travel to the eustachian tubes and into the middle ear, resulting in an ear infection. Both strep throat and ear infections can be treated with antibiotics. 

How to get rid of ear pain caused by strep throat

An ear infection may be caused by viruses or bacteria, but if you have strep throat and then develop an ear infection, it’s likely your ear infection is bacterial. In most cases, an ear infection will get better without antibiotics. However, if you aren’t already taking antibiotics for your strep, you should speak with your doctor if you develop ear pain.

While you’re waiting for your ear pain to resolve, there are a few things you can do at home to help relieve the pain: 

  • Applying warm or cold compresses

  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers (cautiously, as some aren’t safe for children or people with certain health conditions)

  • Adjusting your sleeping position to reduce physical pressure on the affected ear

When to see a doctor

Both strep throat and an ear infection will typically resolve without treatment. However, confirming the cause of your strep throat will help you take the appropriate precautions to prevent spreading it to others. Additionally, you should see a doctor if you've had a severe sore throat, earache, or fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) for more than two days.

If you have strep or a bacterial ear infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help you recover quickly and reduce your risk of developing complications. 

Follow up with your doctor if you’re not feeling better after taking antibiotics for 48 hours. Sometimes, persistent or worsening symptoms can be a sign of complications.

The lowdown

Strep throat is a bacterial illness that can lead to an infection in one or both ears, and the best treatment for strep and a bacterial earache is a round of antibiotics. You can reduce your risk of getting strep by washing your hands often, resisting the urge to touch your face or mouth, and staying away from people you know are sick with strep. 

FAQ

Why do my throat and ear hurt on one side?

A sore throat can result from an illness, allergies, tonsillitis, or another irritant. Likewise, an earache can result from various conditions, including tooth infections, jaw issues (such as temporomandibular joint dysfunction and TMD), and allergies.

However, if your sore throat is caused by strep and you develop ear pain, the bacteria in your throat may have traveled to your ear, resulting in an ear infection.

What should I do if I have an earache and a sore throat?

The most important thing to do when you're sick is to rest. When you're sick, your body needs rest to recover; pushing yourself will put unnecessary strain on your body and may delay your recovery. You can also use over-the-counter pain relievers to ease discomfort. Hot showers, throat sprays, and humidifiers may also help.

  1. Strep throat: All you need to know | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Other sources:

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