November 18, 2022

Will Strep Throat Go Away on Its Own?

The holidays are here, which means sparkly lights, social gatherings, and sore throats. But how can you tell if your sore throat is a cold or strep throat? Here’s how to tell if you have strep throat and when you should see a doctor rather than allowing strep throat to go away on its own.

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes or group A streptococcus.[1] A sore throat or pharyngitis is one of the symptoms of strep throat. Other symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Red tonsils with white spots
  • Soft or hard palate petechiae (tiny, red dots)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Eating problems

Strep throat is one of the most common reasons why adults and children visit the emergency room.[3] In the United States, 5-15% of adults and 15-35% of children get sore throats due to strep throat.[3] Streptococcus Group A is the most common bacteria responsible for sore throats and strep throats.

Bacterial infections are not the only cause of sore throats. Viruses and allergies can also cause a sore throat. You may also get a sore throat after going under general anesthesia.

How do you know if you have a cold or strep throat?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most sore throats are caused by viruses, not strep infections. About one in ten adults with a sore throat has strep throat. Only three in ten children with a sore throat have strep throat.

Unlike strep throat, colds are caused by viral infections, usually rhinoviruses. Viruses and bacteria can cause sore throats with different symptoms. You may be suffering from a virus, not strep throat if you experience these symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Having a runny nose
  • Talking in a raspy voice (hoarseness)
  • Developing inflammatory conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Who is more likely to get strep throat?

Strep throat is more common in children than in adults. Children between the ages of 5 and 15 are most likely to develop strep throat, and children younger than 3 are less likely to contract it. The risk of strep throat increases for parents with school-aged children, teachers, and daycare workers.

People close to someone with strep throat are more likely to contract it. Schools, daycares, and assisted living facilities are crowded places where infections can spread. The winter and early spring are the most common times for strep throat t occur.[2]

How is strep throat diagnosed?

Without a diagnostic test, doctors cannot distinguish between streptococcal or viral sore throats. A throat culture or rapid antigen detection testing (RADT) is how strep throat is diagnosed.

Diagnosis is essential to determine whether medication can help your strep throat and avoid complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney inflammation.[4] Taking antibiotics after a strep throat diagnosis reduces the risk of developing complications. Antibiotics can also sometimes reduce pain.

Does strep throat require medication?

The answer is no, not always. Strep throat can go away on its own. Strep throat is self-limiting, which means a condition can heal without intervention. Strep throat usually lasts a few days but can last up to 10 days.

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics such as amoxicillin if they find you have strep A.[4] Antibiotics are recommended because they speed up the healing process. You may also use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as Advil to reduce pain, according to the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP).

You should feel better within a day or two after taking your antibiotic. Taking antibiotics for strep throat has the following benefits:

  • Getting better faster
  • Feeling better and reducing symptoms
  • Avoiding the spread of the bacteria
  • Preventing rheumatic fever

When should you see a doctor if you have strep throat?

An appointment with your doctor can help determine whether you have strep throat or how to treat it. You should see a doctor if your sore throat lasts longer than ten days or includes the following symptoms:

  • Over 100.4°F fever
  • Swallowing pain or difficulty
  • Tonsils or throat patches that are pussy or white
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • A swollen lymph node
  • Headaches, muscle aches, or joint pains
  • Saliva or phlegm containing blood
  • Voice changes, an ongoing cough, or hoarseness
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How can you prevent spreading or catching strep throat?

Maintaining good hygiene is the best way to prevent and catch strep throat. Detecting strep throat quickly is crucial to preventing its spread, which can occur through talking, sneezing, or sharing food. Here are some ways you can prevent spreading strep throat:

  • Keep your hands clean at all times.
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose.
  • Do not share utensils, a glass, or a plate.
  • Stay home from work, school, or daycare until you no longer have a fever and have taken antibiotics for at least 12 hours.

What should you do while recovering from strep throat?

While strep throat goes away by itself, you can take these steps to stay comfortable and fight the infection:

  • Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) relieves sore throats and fevers.
  • Getting extra rest will help your body fight off the infection.
  • Rinsing your throat with warm water and a quarter teaspoon of salt to relieve scratchiness.
  • Sucking on lozenges. Children under four should not be given small pieces of candy.
  • Keeping hydrated is especially important if you have a fever. Keep hydrated by drinking water or warm liquids such as soup or tea.
  • Choosing soft foods, such as yogurt or applesauce, can make swallowing easier.
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier or saline nasal spray can soothe your throat.
  • Avoid anything irritating your throat, including smoke, paint fumes, and cleaning products.

Strep throat can heal by itself, but visiting your doctor can help you avoid complications and have fewer symptoms. You can get a strep throat diagnosis and treatment plan from Healthcare Associates of Texas.

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