Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes a scratchy and sore throat. Unlike most other sore throats that are caused by viruses, it is caused by a bacteria called group A streptococci, which spreads through person-to-person contact with saliva and fluid from the nose. It is more common in children and teens between five and 15 years old, but anyone can get it.
Although most sore throats may go away on their own, leaving strep throat untreated could lead to severe complications, some of which can be fatal or cause lasting damage.
There are several ways to treat the symptoms of strep throat, but the most common is using throat lozenges. The important question is — do they work?
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Some of the signs of strep throat include:
A skin rash
White spots and patches on the throat or tonsils
Dark red spots on the roof of the mouth
Swollen lymph nodes
The symptoms are the same for adults and children. Although these signs could indicate strep infection, it is impossible to identify it yourself based on symptoms alone. You need to visit a doctor for testing to make a definitive diagnosis.
Failure to pursue diagnosis and treatment of strep throat can lead to life-threatening complications.
It is important to note that lozenges only lessen the symptoms of a sore throat — they do not treat the underlying cause. For sore throats caused by viruses, often the only treatment is supportive methods to alleviate symptoms and waiting for your body to right itself. For bacterial strep throat, the definitive treatment is antibiotics.
There is research regarding the use of lozenges for general sore throats, as well as for strep throat. Clinical trials to determine the benefits of lozenges for sore throat have shown that using antiseptic lozenges, such as Betadine and Strepsils lozenges, results in only a small reduction in sore throat pain.¹
Different brands of lozenges use different formulations with various active ingredients, such as antiseptics, pain relievers, menthol, etc. Clinical studies have shown that some of these active ingredients provide pain relief. A study found benzocaine lozenges offer quick pain relief compared to placebos. And a research review found flurbiprofen lozenges reduce sore throat pain.² ³
No, you shouldn't. If you leave strep throat untreated, it can lead to:
An infected mass in the tonsils area
Streptococcal glomerulonephritis, a rare kidney disease
Rheumatic heart disease
Inflammation of the joints, heart, or kidney
Skin diseases like impetigo and cellulitis
If left untreated, strep throat can remain contagious for a few weeks, but once you start treatment, you won't be contagious after 24 hours.
Even though some of these infections are very rare, they are severe and should be prevented at all costs. Most of us turn to lozenges for sore throat, under the impression that they treat it, but they only help with the symptoms of strep throat.
If you believe you have strep throat, it is important you visit a doctor to see whether you need antibiotics.
Apart from lozenges for sore throat, there are several ways to ease sore throat pain, whether it is caused by bacteria or viruses. Some of the things you can do to minimize or eliminate a sore throat include:
Using medication such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen (Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.)
Gargling with salt water multiple times a day
Drinking hot beverages, such as tea (You can add lemon, honey, or ginger to make it soothing.)
Drinking cold beverages
Using a humidifier if the sore throat is caused by dry air
Using anesthetic sprays
Because it is impossible to determine whether a sore throat is caused by strep throat based on symptoms alone, these "treatments" should be considered temporary symptom relief before visiting a doctor for a permanent solution.
See a doctor if the sore throat lasts more than seven days, keeps coming back, or if symptoms worsen.
You can treat strep throat with antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider since strep throat is caused by bacteria. However, if your sore throat isn't caused by strep, you risk overusing antibiotics and creating resistance to their effectiveness.
You need to visit a doctor for testing and diagnosis. They will conduct a physical exam, looking at the signs and symptoms to determine the best course of action.
There are three tests used to check for strep throat:
Rapid antigen test – the doctor swabs a sample from your throat and looks for antigens. It takes about ten minutes to provide results.
Molecular test – the doctor swabs a sample and delivers the results in less than ten minutes. Often, if the molecular and rapid antigen tests turn out negative but the doctor still suspects strep throat, they will perform a throat culture.
Throat culture – a sample of throat secretions is collected by swabbing the tonsils and back of the throat. This causes slight discomfort, and you may gag. The sample is then cultured, so the results take about two days.
If the doctor determines you have strep throat, they can prescribe antibiotics to relieve the symptoms, treat bacteria, and prevent spreading. If you take oral antibiotics, you should start feeling better in a day or two.
After 24 hours of antibiotic use, you won't be contagious anymore. However, if you don't start improving 48 hours after you start treatment, contact the doctor.
Even if you start feeling better, be sure to finish all prescribed medicine to ensure the infection is completely gone. Stopping mid-dosage can lead to recurrences.
Many people with sore throats turn to lozenges. However, they only soothe the throat and reduce the pain and soreness. Lozenges do not treat the actual cause of sore throat, which in the case of strep throat is group A streptococci.
Considering lozenges as treatment for sore throat could be dangerous if you suffer from strep throat, since leaving it untreated could cause life-threatening complications. If you believe you have strep throat, you should see a doctor immediately for testing and diagnosis.