Step Throat And Untreated Step Throat

Most people have either had strep throat themselves or know somebody who has. Those affected usually suffer from a severe sore throat, fever, headache, and many other unpleasant symptoms. Strep throat has many symptoms in common with influenza and viral infections, so it can be difficult to know whether you have strep or something else unless you get a test done at your doctor's office.

Many people don't want to take time out of their day to schedule an appointment, or they may not have access to a physician within a reasonable amount of time, so they may leave it and see what happens.

Can strep go away on its own? Find out below. 

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Causes of strep throat

Strep throat is an infection in the throat that is caused by a class of bacteria called group A streptococcus¹, or streptococcus pyogenes. These bacteria cause inflammation in the throat that can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Rashes on the neck and chest

  • Loss of appetite

  • Red throat

  • Swollen glands

  • Nausea, and occasionally vomiting

  • Headaches

Although the above symptoms are also consistent with viral infections and seasonal allergies, strep throat typically does not cause a cough, runny nose, or other issues in the upper respiratory tract. The only way you can know that you have strep throat is by getting a test done. 

Diagnosis

When seeing your doctor about possible strep, your doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms. If they believe you may have strep, they may administer a rapid strep test, also known as a rapid antigen test. This test looks for antigens in your system, which are produced when your immune system has found an infection.

The test is helpful as it gives results within 10-20 minutes, but it can sometimes provide a false negative. If your rapid test comes back negative, but your doctor believes you may still have strep throat, they may order a throat culture. 

A throat culture tests for streptococcus A bacteria, but you may not get the results for a day or two. These tests are necessary because they can tell your doctor whether you need antibiotics or not.

Antibiotics don't work on viral infections, so it's crucial to know whether your sore throat and other symptoms are caused by bacteria or something else. It can be harmful to prescribe antibiotics to those who don't actually need them, which is why testing for strep is so important. 

Both tests can cause mild discomfort for a minute or so since they involve swabbing the back of your throat to get the sample. Your healthcare provider will walk you through the steps and be done before you know it. 

At-home strep tests

There are many at-home strep tests on the market, but they may not be as accurate as in-office ones. This is because those who use at-home strep tests don’t typically have the training to administer the strep tests following proper protocols, which can alter the results.

Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics to someone with only an at-home positive test result as they want to avoid overprescribing antibiotics. So in-office strep tests are almost always preferable to at-home strep tests.

Risk factors of strep throat

Some people may be more likely to get strep throat than others. The most common risk factors for strep throat include:

  • Being between the ages of 5 and 15

  • Having school-aged children

  • Being in regular contact with children

  • Living or being in close quarters with others for extended periods of time, like military basis or in college dorms

Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of getting strep throat by following good hygiene practices, like washing your hands before eating and preparing food, after using the bathroom, and after coughing or sneezing.

Preventing the spread of strep throat

If you have it, you can reduce the spread of strep throat by covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and staying home from work or school until your infection is gone.

It's also important to throw used tissues in the waste basket instead of leaving them out, and it is recommended to throw away your old toothbrush when you are feeling better. 

Avoid sharing utensils, glasses, and plates, and make sure you wash them thoroughly in a dishwasher or with hot soapy water between uses. If you are diagnosed with strep throat and prescribed antibiotics, you are less likely to transmit bacteria after being on the antibiotics for at least 12 hours. 

How long can strep throat last when left untreated?

If you leave strep throat untreated, you can recover in three to five days² if no complications arise. With antibiotics, you can recover from strep throat in one to three days and also reduce the transmission of the illness. If you decide not to take antibiotics, you can remain contagious until you recover. 

Potential complications of strep throat

Because strep throat is a bacterial infection, it can spread quickly to other areas of your body and create even more pain and problems. When left untreated, strep throat can allow bacteria to spread to your tonsils, sinuses, inner ears, and even your blood, which can lead it to spread even further.

It's rare for strep throat to progress and cause kidney inflammation, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and abscesses close to the tonsils, but it can happen. These conditions may require more extensive and costly medical care, so it's best to see a doctor sooner rather than later to avoid such complications. 

In children, strep throat that is left untreated can lead to rheumatic fever³. Rheumatic fever can cause rashes, swollen joints, kidney damage, and heart problems, so it's important to take your child to the doctor immediately if they have symptoms consistent with strep throat. 

When to see a doctor for strep throat

It's helpful to get in touch with your doctor if you display any of the following symptoms:

  • A sore throat for more than 48 hours

  • A sore throat with swollen lymph glands

  • A sore throat with a rash

  • Breathing or swallowing problems

  • A fever

  • No improvement in symptoms after being on antibiotics for strep for over 48 hours

How to feel better with strep throat

While you wait for your symptoms to improve with the antibiotics, there are a few ways you can help yourself feel better, including:

  • Gargling a cup of warm water with one teaspoon of salt mixed in

  • Using throat lozenges

  • Drinking lots of fluids, especially warm beverages like tea or broth

  • Getting plenty of rest

  • Using a humidifier to keep the air in your room at the right moisture level

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or naproxen

  • Eating soft foods

  • Avoiding smoking

Some websites online may recommend remedies that claim to treat strep throat at home. While there is nothing wrong with using the above remedies to help you feel better, they aren't intended to treat the strep throat infection. Antibiotics are the best way to treat strep throat and prevent it from spreading to others. 

Can you get strep throat twice?

Yes, you can get strep throat multiple times. There aren't any vaccines available to protect you from getting it, and having a strep throat infection once doesn't stop you from getting it again. By following proper hygiene protocols and avoiding crowded places during cold and flu season, you may be able to prevent yourself from getting strep throat again.

If someone gets strep throat regularly, they may have their tonsils removed to prevent it from returning so frequently.

Tonsillectomies are most common in children who continually get strep throat, but adults can also elect to get their tonsils removed if they have trouble with frequent strep throat infections.

The lowdown

Strep throat may not seem serious, especially since its symptoms closely align with cold and flu viruses. In most cases, strep throat can be resolved easily with a course of antibiotics from your doctor after you have been properly diagnosed with strep throat.

Failing to get treatment for strep throat can result in worse infections, which can be especially dangerous in children. As a result, you should visit your doctor if you have the above signs and symptoms consistent with strep throat, and it is best to do so as soon as possible.

Seeing your doctor is the best way to find out if you really have strep throat and not just a viral infection. It can prevent you from dealing with strep throat symptoms for longer than necessary while reducing your chances of spreading the strep infection to others.

  1. Strep throat | Yale Medicine

  2. What to know about strep throat | OSF Healthcare

  3. Strep throat (bacterial) | Nationwide Childrens

Other sources:

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