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In simple terms, Strep throat is an ailment which is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus bacteria. Characterised by symptoms like a sore throat and fever, the disease mostly affects kids in the age group 5-15 years although there are chances of adults contracting it as well. Usually, the infection goes away on its own, but doctors prescribe antibiotic medications to make the process simpler. Rarely strep throat becomes highly aggressive and changes into Rheumatic fever disease. Read on to know more about causes of strep throat and its symptoms,and treatment.
What causes Strep throat?
Group A Streptococcus bacteria is the main cause of strep throat. It attacks the pharyngeal tissue, and causes an inflammatory reaction in your throat and tonsils area. The Group A Streptococcus bacterium is mostly found in the throat area or on your skin. Its group B counterpart is found in the digestive system, and the vagina and hence shows its impact there.
Strep throat is a communicable disease and can easily spread from one person to another through methods like cough, sneeze and touch. It is therefore advised that if you have someone already suffering from the strep throat, then refrain from physical touch or touching his/her used belongings like clothes, drinking cups etc.
Risk factors associated with Strep Throat
Though strep throat can affect just about anyone, there are some risk factors which increase the chances of getting it. Below mentioned are some of them.
Normally it is the age group 5-15 which is more prone to catching the strep throat infection. It might infect kids younger than five years too, but the symptoms may not be as typical as other kids. In this case, the chances of an adult getting the infection are a meager of 5 %.
It is believed that the bacteria causing strep throat can stay in your hand for as long as three hours. Children have a habit of sneezing and coughing into their hands, and that spreads infection.
3. Contact with patients–
If someone is already infected with the disease, it increases the chances that any other person who is in contact may contract it too. Usually schools and day care centres are the most obvious places where you can contract the infection.
4. Exposure to smoke or pollution–
In case you reside in a place where the air has a massive particle presence, or you engage in active or passive smoking, then chances of getting strep throat increase. The presence of particles irritates your throat later resulting in a strep throat infection.
5. Time of the year–
There is always the possibility of contracting the infection during a specific time of the year. It is more common during the late winters and in early springs, but that can differ in some cases.
Signs and symptoms of Strep throat
Typically, a strep throat infection has an incubation period ranging from two to five years. This is the time taken from the attack to the manifestation of the symptoms. The following signs and symptoms are seen when the infection has taken over.
- Soreness in throat and problems in swallowing.
- Fever and chillness
- severe headache
- Fatigue and facing a lack of energy
- Decrease in the appetite
- A visible enlargement in your lymph nodes
- Swelling seen in the back of the throat.
- Red or purple spots which can be seen on the mouth roof.
- Redness seen around the back of the throat.
- White patches at the back of the throat again
Apart from these, there are certain symptoms which may be seen, but they are quite rare.
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle pain
- Rashes seen on chest and neck
- Vomiting and nausea
- Pain in lymph nodes
- Stiffness in the joints
The symptoms can aggravate too and may require medical attention if they move on to something serious like the following:
- Breathing troubles or shortness in breath
- Blueness in lips and fingers
- Troubles in swallowing
Complications in Strep throat
Although rarely, strep throat may move into a more serious problem. Normally its complications can be divided into pus-forming and non-pus forming category. First, we talk about the pus forming complications which may require surgery to remove the pus.
Pus forming complications-
- An abscess formed near the tonsil also known as a Peritonsillar
- Otitis media is an infection of the ear which is accompanied by pain and fever.
- Sinusitis or sinus infection may get treated by antibiotics.
Nonpus forming complications
- Swelling in the body
- Rheumatic and scarlet fever
- Kidney infection called the post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis
- Toxic shock syndrome, quite rarely though
- Low platelets and bruising
Diagnosis of a strep throat infection
Your ENT doctor or the physician can easily detect symptoms of strep throat infection. A normal diagnosis of the same involves studying your symptoms, medical history, physical examination,and lab testing. Three lab tests are used most often.
1. Throat culture–
This is considered to be the most obvious diagnostic test for strep throat. Bacteria from the back of the throat are collected using swabs. The sample is later placed on plates which comprise of sheep blood mixed with bacteria growth media. If Streptococcus bacteria are present, they will break open the red blood cells and your diagnosis completed.
2. Rapid antigen test–
Another test where samples are taken from the back of the throat this can be conducted by the doctor himself. This swab is then treated with antigens of the bacteria, and your results are provided in 10-20 minutes. However, their sensitivity as compared to throat cultures is less, and it is a wide possibility that the results appear negative in spite of the infection being present.
3. Imaging test–
If your strep throat infection has not become severe yet it does not require an imaging test. This one is required only if you are seeing serious complications like kidney or heart problems. However, this possibility is very rare, and so such tests are rarely used.
Treatment of strep throat-
Mostly strep throat is treated with antibiotics like penicillin, erythromycin, and amoxicillin. Before consulting the doctor, people also resort to OTC medications like ibuprofen and also certain home remedies. Once you are diagnosed with the disease, the following medications would be advised.
- Prescription antibiotics like Penicillin V and Amoxicillin.
- OTC medications like Tylenol, Advil which can help to reduce the fever and the pain.
- You can also be recommended throat sprays like Chloraseptic which would reduce the throat pain caused.
- Throat Lozenges are widely available at any pharmacy. Normally a lozenge containing an anaesthetic would be the best bet, and it is also more effective than a throat sprays.
Home remedies for strep throat
Home remedies can be effective but only to a limited extent. They are only short-term solutions and would remove any infection present in your body. You can incorporate them in the initial days but if the problem persists then medical help is advised. Here are some home remedies for strep throat that you can try:
- Use of ice pack in case you are also having a fever.
- In case you are experiencing chills you can use warm blankets and drink warm fluids.
- Eat soft foods which do not bother your throat.
- Salt water gargle.
- Cool mist vaporizer or humidifier
- A spoonful of honey to reduce the symptoms
- Diluted Apple cider vinegar gargle
- Elderberry in the form of tea capsules or powder.
- Echinacea in capsule form as soon as the symptoms start showing.
- Warm bone broth and try to consume as many times as possible
- Herbal tea with flours like Chamomile and Dandelion being the best choices
- Swishing one or two teaspoons of coconut oil in your mouth for 10 minutes. Later spit, rinse your mouth and brush teeth.
- Apply 1-2 drops of peppermint oil on throat and chest
- Lemon essential oil drops can be added to a glass of warm water or herbal tea for quick relief.
- Add two drops of thyme oil to water and gargle or use as mouthwash.
Prevention of Strep Throat
To avoid strep throat infection, it is advised to stay away from the physical contact of a infected person. Wash your hands at regular intervals to ensure that no germs are transferred. As soon as you experience symptoms of strep throat, replace your toothbrush and when the disease is cured, change it again so that you do not get infected once more. Before using any antibiotics do make sure to get an antibiotics test done. Since strep throat symptoms are quite similar to those of a normal sore throat, it is better to be absolutely sure.
Strep throat infection can be painful and hence timely intervention is crucial. At times, the infection may also lead to scarlet fever which is another severe bacterial infection. Apart from following the above precautions and home remedies, it is very important for the patient to rest and take as many fluids as possible. This would ensure that the throat remains hydrated and the signs of soreness are reduced in time.