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What to Know About Strep Throat 

6 min read

By Kate Harveston

Medically Reviewed by Patty Weasler, RN

You wake up feeling like death warmed over. Is it the common cold, or perhaps a case of the flu? What if you have strep throat?

You might wonder, “Does it matter what I have? I know I feel lousy. Isn’t that enough?” However, determining the reason you’re under the weather can help you regain your health more quickly. It can also protect those you care about from contracting the illness. Here’s what you need to know about strep throat

It Isn’t the Same as the Cold or Flu

Even though strep throat has symptoms similar to those of a cold or flu, different pathogens cause each illness. Most colds, for example, stem from rhinoviruses or coronaviruses. Scientists can isolate influenza strains — it’s how they’re able to create the flu vaccine.

Strep throat is similar to colds and flu in that both are highly contagious, especially when left untreated. There are four primary strains of strep — Groups A, B, C, and G. You’re probably most concerned about Group A, which causes the upper respiratory symptoms and fever associated with strep throat. However, Group B’s form of the illness poses severe risks to the unborn children of pregnant women, reports MedlinePlus. If you’re expecting, you’ll need to get tested during your pregnancy to ensure your baby’s health.

A Compromised Immune System Puts You at Risk

Multiple factors determine whether you’ll get strep throat. The most critical one is exposure to the germ. However, your overall health also plays a role in whether you become sick. It also impacts the length and duration of your illness.

For example, if you have a compromised immune system due to HIV or another disorder, you might catch strep throat more readily. You’re also more likely to develop a sore throat from a fungal infection if you have such a condition. Your doctor will perform a throat swab to determine the cause of your illness.

It Lays You Low Quickly

If you get strep throat, the germs won’t dally when it comes to sending you the message. Throat pain generally comes on quickly with this condition. You’ll also experience red and swollen tonsils, if you still have them, with white patches or streaks of pus.

However, it is possible to experience these symptoms and not have strep throat. This detail is important to note because many people insist that their doctors give them antibiotics when they’re ill. While antibiotics will cure strep, which is caused by bacteria, such medicines don’t help treat the cold or the flu. Viruses cause those issues, and taking unnecessary antibiotics can lead to the development of more resistant germ strains.

Symptoms Include Nausea and Vomiting

Strep throat can occur at any age, but it happens more frequently in children. They haven’t yet developed antibodies to the bacteria. As a result, they often experience severe symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.

Should you or your child experience this symptom, it’s extra important to stay hydrated. Because your throat hurts, you may not enjoy drinking liquids. However, you must maintain a proper liquid balance in your system. Dehydration can leave you feeling worse.

You’ll Likely Develop a Fever

You don’t always experience fever with a common cold, but this symptom frequently occurs in strep infections. Like the throat pain, this fever usually has a rapid onset. It may soar higher than 101-degrees, so keep an eye on the thermometer. High temperatures can lead to other health complications.

If your fever climbs to 103-degrees or higher, seek medical treatment immediately. If your child is ill, base the decision of when to call on their age.

It Spreads Easily

Are you still covering your mouth with your hand when you sneeze or cough? If so, everything you touch afterward can become contaminated by germs. Strep throat is highly contagious, so learn how to practice proper techniques to stop the spread.

If you feel a tickle coming on, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. If you don’t have one available, stifle yourself in your shoulder shirt sleeve, not in your hand. That way, you don’t pass on your germs to the next person you greet.

A Humidifier Can Help

Humidifiers can help you feel better by keeping your nasal and throat passages moist. However, such a device may also help you prevent illness in the first place. Your nose is your first line of defense against germs, and when your passages grow too dry, it rolls out the welcome mat for bugs.

You might benefit from investing in a humidifier that doubles as a desktop aromatherapy diffuser. Scents such as wintergreen and peppermint trigger the scent receptors in your brain. Since your mind tells your body what to do, researchers believe aromatherapy can help with an immune system boost, too.

Keep Popsicles on Hand

Because your throat is sore, you might not feel like eating much. However, your body requires calories to fight infection. Sucking on a cold popsicle or cream pop can soothe sore throats and get you some nourishment. You can find vegan ice cream products if you follow a dairy-free lifestyle.

Additionally, warm beverages might soothe your throat and help your immune system. All types of tea contain antioxidants that fight free radicals and aid in healing. Some research indicates that catechins in the tea kill certain viruses. Although strep stems from bacteria, you can reduce your risk of developing a secondary infection.

Put Away the Orange Juice, Though

When you were a child, your caregivers probably told you to drink orange juice when you were sick. While this beverage does contain high levels of vitamin C, the citric acid can irritate the lining of your throat. If you want to increase your vitamin C intake, you’re better off using a supplement until you recover.

Additionally, you might find the capsaicin in spicy foods irritates your swollen passages. Even if you traditionally opt for cooking with a south-of-the-border or Thai flair, it’s better to stick with bland. A hot bowl of vegetable soup fills your belly without making the pain worse.

You Should Stay Home

If your doctor determines you have strep throat, you must stay home for the first 24-hours after starting a course of antibiotics. Otherwise, you risk spreading the disease to others. You don’t want to gain a reputation as the office Strep Susie.

Getting adequate rest also helps speed your recovery process. The demands of modern life make many people clock in even when they should be in bed. However, pushing yourself too hard can result in more severe illness — and more time off work. Your colleagues don’t want to listen to your cough and hack through your presentation, so give yourself a break.

Wash Your Hands and Use Sanitizer

To further prevent the spread of germs, you need to practice proper handwashing techniques. You want to spend at least 15-20 seconds lathering soap on your hands before rinsing. To make it easier to tell the time, sing “Happy Birthday” twice through in your head.

If you don’t have access to a sink, hand sanitizer can help prevent the spread of some germs. However, like washing, you need to do it properly for maximum effect. Resist the temptation to wipe off the excess gel on your shirt or pants. Instead, rub the mixture entirely until your hands are dry.

You Could Suffer Complications

Did you know that you could suffer complications if you leave your strep throat untreated? You could develop rheumatic fever, for example, that affects the skin, joints and nervous system. This condition can also cause long-term damage to your heart and its valves with a condition called rheumatic heart disease, so it’s essential to seek treatment.

Other complications of strep throat include otitis media, or a spread of the infection to your middle ear. This disease can cause issues with your balance and coordination. You could also develop pneumonia or toxic shock syndrome. In some cases, painful abscesses arise in your throat.

If you think you have strep throat, make an appointment with your doctor. With a course of antibiotics and rest, you can recover quickly and get on with your life.


Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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