Symptoms of Strep Throat: 7 Things to Know the Next Time You Feel That Tingle in Your Throat

Strep throat has some symptoms similar to a typical sore throat, with some major differences. Here is a list of seven symptoms you should know about.

Woman holds throat and neck in pain

A painful sore throat is not necessarily just another sign of the common cold. An inflamed throat, tonsils, and that sickly feeling could be symptoms of strep throat instead. It’s a bacterial infection that can initially feel like the flu is coming, and it’s more common in children and teens ages 5 through 15. But, it is in fact, quite different from viral infections. If left untreated, it can lead to other complications. Read on to learn about what to do if you think you or your child might have strep throat. 

1. Causes Throat Pain and Fever, But Not Coughing  

The majority of sore throats due to respiratory illnesses are usually accompanied by some kind of cough. However, that doesn’t mean it’s strep throat. Instead, it’s a sore throat that appears suddenly, causing great pain, especially when swallowing. You may find swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

The tonsils can also get red and swollen, occasionally with white bumps and pus, as well as small red spots on the ceiling of the mouth. Another tell-tale sign is a fever, signalling a full-on infection. Sometimes a skin rash called impetigo may also appear, especially in young children. It is known as scarlet fever (scarlatina). 

2. Only Testing Can Accurately Diagnose Strep Throat

Doctor swabbing a young girl’s throat for testing of throat infection
Upon suspicion, the doctor will do either a rapid test or throat culture to determine whether there is a strep throat infection

The name “strep throat” comes from the name of the specific bacteria responsible for the illness. It belongs to Group A Streptococcus, also known as Streptococcus pyogenes. While viral infections like the common cold or the flu can be diagnosed through symptoms, strep throat can only be definitively diagnosed through a rapid swab test or a throat culture.

A rapid test can quickly show whether it is strep throat. However, in children and teens, if a rapid test is negative but the doctor still suspects strep throat, a throat culture swab will be taken. This is because strep throat in children and teens can lead to long-term damage if left untreated. 

3. It Is Highly Contagious  

Although it is usually a mild infection, strep throat is highly contagious, as it can lead to serious complications if left undiagnosed and untreated. It is especially important to prevent spreading the disease to others. The bacteria thrive in the throat and nasal passages and can easily be spread when bacteria-containing small droplets leave one’s mouth or nose through sneezing, coughing, talking, or breathing.

You can also catch strep throat by touching sores on the skin caused by the same bacteria. While not all infections may present symptoms, those who have symptoms are more likely to infect others, which usually appear 2-5 days after exposure. 

4. Children, Parents, and Teachers are at Increased Risk of Catching Strep Throat 

Schools are notorious for being breeding grounds for a strep throat contagion. This is because children and teens are usually together in close proximity, touching the same surfaces and objects. Just like colds and flu, parents are also at high risk of catching strep throat if their child comes home infected.

Adults who work with children, such as teachers or day-care workers are also very likely to catch the infection. Other crowded settings like military camps, prisons, and university dormitories can easily spread strep throat. 

5. A Strep Throat Infection Does Not Go Away on Its Own  

There are no vaccines for strep throat, nor will the infection go away on its own. Untreated strep throat in children can lead to rheumatic fever (affecting the heart) or post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (affecting the kidneys).

So it is critical for you or your child to get tested when symptoms appear. Doctors will prescribe antibiotics to all positive cases, and symptoms will usually ease within 48 hours. It is important that you or your child finish the antibiotics, even if you start to feel better.

6. Plenty of Home Remedies to Soothe the Pain 

Bowl of vanilla ice cream on table
One way to soothe throat pain due to strep throat is by eating cool, soft foods like ice cream or yoghurt

The worst symptom to deal with when you have strep throat is throat pain. At the first sign of symptoms, gargling with salt water is a great and easy way to soothe the throat, as the salt is naturally antibacterial and helps slow bacterial proliferation. Warm herbal teas and nourishing light soups can help you get some nutrition while also helping with pain when swallowing.

You may also want to add ginger, honey, or lemon to your tea for an additional antibacterial and soothing action. The best part is that cool and soft foods like ice cream and yoghurt are also acceptable to help soothe the throat. 

7. Infections Can be Prevented 

Being hygienic can prevent strep throat infections. If you or your child has strep throat, stay home from school and work while you’re healing. Take antibiotics to reduce the duration of your symptoms, and the period in which you can spread the disease to others.

Practice proper and frequent handwashing with soap and water. Wash surfaces, plates, and eating utensils before using them. Also, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing in public. Properly dispose of used tissues to prevent contamination of other surfaces. As much as possible, maintain distance and avoid interacting closely with other members of the household. However, you can wear a face mask if necessary. 

The TCM Perspective on Symptoms of Strep Throat  

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Peh Wei Jie, strep throat is acute pharyngitis or sudden painful inflammation of the throat due to an invasion by an external pathogen in the environment “causing congestion of qi (vital energy) and breeding of Heat”. This is likely to happen when the immune system is compromised due to an imbalance in emotions, over-work, and a qi Deficiency.

There are three conditions under which one is more likely to exhibit symptoms of strep throat: external Wind-Heat, external Wind-Cold, or Heat in the Lung and Stomach.

“The first two conditions are due to the invasion of the body by external pathogenic factors, whether it is Wind-Heat or Wind-Cold, causing a battle between the pathogenic factors and the body’s immunity. The third condition is due to an abundant intake of spicy and fried foods, bringing about excessive Heat in the Stomach and Lung meridians,” Physician Peh elaborates. 

Your TCM physician will examine you to determine the cause, and depending on the specific case, prescribe a regimen that will either purge the infection or boost immunity, or both. You can also take certain herbal medications targeting the reduction of Heat from the Stomach and Lung. Your TCM physician can also conduct Heat-clearing acupuncture to help relieve symptoms.

Remember these key points the next time symptoms of strep throat inflict a member of your household. While it may seem like just another sore throat, you must deal with the bacterial infection that causes this illness. This is to prevent the sickness from developing into more serious conditions.

Strep throat is very contagious and can put a hold on your daily life. So, it’s best to take the necessary precautions at the first sign of a painful and scratchy throat, whether yours or your child’s.

References

  1. Center for Disease Prevention and Controls (CDC). 2022. Strep Throat: All You Need to Know. [online]  [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2019. Strep Throat. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2020. The Difference between a Sore Throat, Strep & Tonsillitis. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  4. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2014. Anti-inflammatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Heat-clearing Chinese Herbs: A Current Review. [online]  [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  5. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2019. Validation of a 16th Century Traditional Chinese Medicine Use of Ginkgo biloba as a Topical Antimicrobial. [online] [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 

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