The Most Effective Antibiotics For The Treatment Of Strep Throat

Most of the time, a sore throat is just a sore throat that will go away with rest and plenty of hydration. There are ways of dealing with it, including gargling with salt water, sucking on frozen treats, or drinking warm fluids. But what do you do if the sore throat doesn't feel better with these suggestions?

A sore throat that doesn't go away after a few days, or one that is accompanied by a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, could mean that something more is going on. One of the most common causes of sore throat and fever is strep throat, which makes most people wonder what an effective treatment for it may be.

With the right medication and rest, most people recover from strep throat quickly. To help you get on the right track, we will tell you the most effective antibiotics to treat strep throat.

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Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Strep throat.

What is strep throat?

When a doctor says your child, or you, has strep throat, you may wonder what it is. The short answer is that you have an infection in your throat and tonsils. Experts estimate it is most often a specific type of bacteria known as group A streptococcus, group A strep pharyngitis, or group A strep.

Group A streptococcus is most common in children. It accounts for 20–30% of sore throats in children between the ages of 5 and 15. This is mostly due to how easily it can spread between children in schools or other crowded areas.¹

The good news is that most people, by the age of ten, have developed lifelong, protective antibodies against streptococcal toxins. So if your child has it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it, as only 1 in 10 adults with a sore throat has strep throat. 

Infants and toddlers under two may have protection against those streptococcal toxins because of their mother's ability to fight off the bacteria. This can also help them fight off the more severe side effects of strep throat.

How does strep throat spread?

Most people want to know how you get strep throat to see if they are more at risk of catching it. Though it is an illness that typically affects kids, some adults can get it if they are close to someone with symptoms.

In most cases, strep throat spreads through:

  • Respiratory droplets or coughing onto someone

  • Direct contact with nasal secretions, saliva, or wounds

  • Sharing foods and drinks or touching contaminated surfaces

The incubation period of strep throat can range from 2–5 days. It can spread throughout the year but is most common in winter and early spring.¹

Symptoms of strep throat

If you are worried that you or your child may have strep throat, it is important that you know the symptoms and that you take precautions to prevent spreading it. Knowing the symptoms is vital to ensure that strep throat is detected early. The most common symptoms include:

  • Sudden sore throat

  • Pain when swallowing

  • Fever of 101 (degrees) Fahrenheit or more

  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck

Other symptoms your doctor may notice include:

  • Red spots on the roof of your mouth

  • Swollen tonsils along with patches or streaks

When you visit the doctor, if they notice anything out of the ordinary in the appearance of your mouth or throat, they may suggest a strep test.

Testing: Is it truly strep throat?

Strep leaves traces that may show its presence. However, for a doctor to feel confident about your diagnosis, they must carry out a strep test. If you've never had a strep test done, you may be curious about what it involves.

There are several steps in testing for group A streptococcus.

  1. The doctor will ask you to tilt your head back and open your mouth wide.

  2. They may use a tongue depressor to hold your tongue down while using a swab to take samples from the back of your throat.

  3. Most doctors have access to a rapid test, so your results will come back within about 15 minutes.

  4. Whether the test is positive or negative, your doctor may send the sample to a lab where they can see more about what is causing your sore throat.

The strep test should not hurt, but some people feel it is uncomfortable. Children may gag or cough as the swab touches the back of their throat.

If your test result is positive for strep, you'll receive a prescription for antibiotics to help you get over the bacterial infection. You should take the first dose as soon as possible.

Remember, although your throat may continue to hurt, you shouldn't be contagious once your fever stays down and you've been on antibiotics for 24 hours. This means you should do things to ensure you don't spread it. Prevention includes the same things you would do to prevent spreading the common cold. You should:

  • Cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your elbow or hands.

  • Throw used tissues in the trash.

  • Wash hands frequently, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer if you do not have access to soap and water.

What is the best antibiotic for severe strep throat?

Before antibiotics were used, strep throat caused a lot of concern. Death occurred in 15–20% of people because it could cause scarlet fever.²

Today, streptococcus is a common and easily treatable disease. Most people recover quickly and without complications if they take the right medication for streptococcus. However, the best treatment for you will depend on your age and if you have any medication allergies.

Therefore, there isn't a single answer for which antibiotic is best for throat infection and fever, but some of the most popular and effective treatments include:

Penicillin

Penicillin can treat a large variety of infections, and it is especially useful in treating strep throat. It has been used to treat strep infections since the 1940s.³

  • Dosage: Children will need to take 250mg two or three times daily for ten days. Doctors will typically give adults 250mg four times a day or 500mg twice daily. It's recommended you take a full course of antibiotics, which means you will take it for ten days.

  • Side effects: It may cause vomiting or nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, hives, itching, etc.

  • Effectiveness: Taking penicillin can reduce symptoms of strep throat 1.9 days faster than taking a placebo. 

  • Symptom relievers: Symptoms usually ease up within two days of taking antibiotics.

  • Risks: Penicillin can cause reactions. If you have had hives because of penicillin in the past, let your doctor know you should avoid taking it again.

Amoxicillin

Amoxicillin is used to treat bacterial infections within the ear, nose, throat, respiratory system, skin, and more.

  • Dosage: Typically, amoxicillin is given in capsule form in 250mg or 500mg doses. If given through oral suspension, dosage may vary.

  • Side effects: Most often, if you have side effects, you will experience nausea and diarrhea.

  • Effectiveness: It is a good medication for strep throat because it stops bacterial growth and prevents it from spreading to other areas of your body.

  • Symptom relievers: Amoxicillin and penicillin are effective at helping you feel better within two days. 

  • Risks: As with other medications in the penicillin family, allergic reactions can occur, including rashes, hives, and other serious reactions. You should talk to your doctor if you have ever had a reaction to penicillin. Although extremely rare, you should also contact your doctor if your symptoms include:

    • Diarrhea containing blood or excessive stomach cramps that last several days

    • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)

    • Bruised or discolored skin

    • Joint or muscle pains

Azithromycin

Azithromycin is commonly used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or infections within the ears, sinus, throat, lungs, etc. It is ideal for people who cannot take penicillin or amoxicillin.

  • Dosage: Adults and older children may take 500mg on day one, then 250mg on days two through five. Children’s dosage will depend on their body weight. Adults — 500mg on day one (the first day), taken as a single dose. Then, 250mg on day two through day five. Children — The proper dose for children will be based on their body weight and the day of the dose. An oral azithromycincycle of 12mg/kg once daily on the first day of the cycle, followed by 6mg/kg for the following four, is recommended by some. Proper dosage should be determined by a doctor.

  • Side effects: The most common side effects include:

    • Nausea

    • Vomiting

    • Stomach pain

    • Diarrhea

    • Headache

  • Effectiveness: It is very effective at treating bacterial infections, typically within a few days.

  • Symptom relievers: Some people experience symptom relief within a few days after starting azithromycin.

  • Risks: As with other medications, there is a risk of severe side effects. You should consult your doctor if you're experiencing any negative side effects that are severely affecting your life. Some negative side effects may include:

    • Fast irregular heartbeats

    • Fainting and dizziness

    • Hives and itching

    • Difficulty breathing

    • Swelling of the face, hands, ankles, etc.

    • Loss of appetite

    • Jaundice

Other treatment options may include cephalexin, cefadroxil, or clindamycin, but only if you cannot take the other medications.

What makes strep throat different from other sore throats?

A virus, or a cold, causes most sore throats. Antibiotics cannot treat a sore throat that stems from a virus. A bacterial infection causes strep throat. The only way to truly know that it's cleared up is to take a full course of antibiotics as they're prescribed for you by your doctor.

However, it is also important to know that because you must take a full round of your prescribed antibiotics, you should never take leftover antibiotics from previous illnesses. If you are told to stop taking a medication and have some remaining, dispose of it properly rather than keep it around your home. 

There are several ways to dispose of your medications, including flushing them down the toilet or returning them to selected pharmacies.

Can strep throat or strep fever go away without antibiotics?

Strep throat can sometimes go away without treatment. However, there are risks when trying to wait it out. The goal of antibiotics is to:

  • Reduce the risk of severe symptoms and shorten the time you will have to deal with it

  • Stop the spread of it and prevent you from developing serious side effects of the illness, including rheumatic fever

Without proper treatment, you may feel better within a few days or a week, but you may remain contagious for two or three weeks. It also increases your chance of developing complications since the bacteria is still in your system.

How to prevent spreading strep throat?

To prevent the spread of strep, you should know that washing your hands frequently, covering your coughs and sneezes, and keeping surface areas of your home clean are what will make the most difference.

How serious is strep throat in adults?

Although it is uncommon for adults to get strep throat, it can happen. Strep is estimated to only account for 1 in 10 sore throats in adults. You must understand that certain conditions and risks are associated with a strep throat infection.

Most risks begin after the bacteria has spread to other parts of your body, only if you don't seek treatment for the streptococcus bacteria. Some of the biggest complications include:

  • Sinus infections

  • Ear infections

  • Abscesses in your neck or around your tonsils

  • Swollen lymph nodes and tenderness in your neck

More serious side effects of not treating strep throat include:

  • Scarlet fever or a rash that appears scaly⁴

  • Rheumatic fever (negatively affects the joints, skin, heart, and brain)

  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (kidney disease)

When talking about strep throat, knowledge is power. You are doing your part by learning what you can about it. The next step is discovering what strep throat looks like when you first experience a sore throat.

Are there natural ways to kill strep?

There is no real home remedy that can cure strep throat. However, there are several things you may try if you want to relieve the symptoms until you can visit your doctor:

  • Supplements: You can increase your vitamin C intake or drink echinacea.

  • Foods: Honey and chamomile are two common ways to soothe sore throats, but they may also enable you to slow the spread of bacteria in your throat.

  • Natural oils: Applying peppermint or menthol to your throat may help relieve the pain and inflammation.

  • Other options: Water mixed with salt can soothe a sore throat if you gargle it. 

Some of these may help reduce bacterial growth, but you should always see your doctor if you suspect you have strep throat.

When to seek medical care

If you've been diagnosed with strep throat, you may still need to contact your doctor if it doesn't feel better in a couple of days. Some symptoms to look for that may require immediate help include:

  • A new or worsening fever

  • A severe headache or stiff-feeling neck, especially if accompanied by a fever

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Pain in the throat or neck that is centered on one side more than the other

Each of these symptoms may be an indication that there is something more serious going on. It may require your doctor to run further tests or cultures on your throat.

The lowdown

Trying to discover if you have a sore throat or strep throat is never easy. However, contacting your doctor is a good idea if you have a sore throat that is severe or worsening. Since strep throat is highly contagious, it is better to know what you're dealing with than risk spreading it to others.

Your doctor can give you medication if you have strep throat and help you feel better. Plenty of antibiotics available can make strep go away quickly, even if you have had allergies to previous antibiotics. From there, if you want to soothe your throat or prevent future strep throat illnesses, you can practice home remedies that provide comfort and protection.

  1. Pharyngitis (strep throat) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  2. Strep throat solutions: When sore throats get serious | Drugs.com

  3. Penicillin (2022)

  4. Scarlet fever: All you need to know | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Other sources:

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