What Is Strep Throat?
Strep Throat is an extremely common bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils which usually occurs in children between the ages 5 to 15. It is caused by a group A bacteria called the streptococcus bacteria which affects the tonsils and may also effect the larynx, causing inflammation in the lymph nodes present in the throat. This in turn causes the throat to turn extremely sore and scratchy. The inflammation is also quite painful and may also cause high temperature due to general lowering of the immune system.
Strep Throat Causes :
Strep throat is a highly contagious disease and is caused when the bacteria called the streptococcus bacteria enters your body. This bacteria spreads when a person already suffering from strep throat coughs or sneezes, spreading the bacteria in the air which can be inhaled by others. Sometimes contaminated food can also cause strep throat. Although it is basically a bacterial infection, some other irritants like smoke, dry air or allergy to dust etc. can also act as triggers of strep throat.
Strep Throat Symptoms :
- Common cold symptoms like coughing sneezing and extremely sore throat.
- The lymph nodes in the neck are swollen.
- The throat is so sore that it turns bright red. Dark red spots may also develop on the roof of the mouth.
- Body temperature may rise to 101°F.
- The throat and tonsils are coated with white or yellowish spots.
The first signs of strep throat are similar to those of a viral infection. The person would develop a cough with painful and sore tonsils. There is a general feeling of fatigue due to lowering of the body immunity accompanied by headaches and feeling of nausea. The tonsils can get swollen, creating difficulty in swallowing food or drink. Strep Throat also causes high fever in most cases of 101°F or above. If the fever is lower, then it is quite possible that without the white and yellow patches on the tonsils it might just be an ordinary viral infection.
The symptoms of strep throat are often confused with a viral infection. For a correct diagnosis, the following tests are recommended:
- Throat Culture – In this test, the cells on the back of your throat are gathered in a cotton swab and tested for the presence of the strep bacteria. The swab is given an environment which promotes growth of strep bacteria. If the bacteria in the swab grow, the result of throat culture is positive.
- Rapid Strep Test – This test also analyses the cells from the back of the throat collected through a cotton swab. However, through this test, the strep bacteria can be identified only through inspection and therefore this is a quicker way of diagnosing than the throat culture test.
The doctor will make a visual examination of the throat first to confirm that there is a severe infection. If he sees that the throat as gone red and tonsils have become inflamed, and the patient is also suffering from a high fever, he may start some basic medication immediately. However, to confirm that it is really a strep throat and not some other viral infection, the doctor may order either a throat culture or a rapid strep test or even both. For a quick diagnosis, a Rapid Strep Test is generally preferred but if the results of this test are negative, then a throat culture is also recommended to be absolutely sure.
The prognosis for strep throat is generally good since it is not a very severe infection. Even without treatment, it can heal on its own but some medication is definitely advised. With the use of antibiotics, the symptoms of strep throat reduce within 24 hours and 3-4 days is more than enough time for most symptoms to disappear. Strep throat is also not recurring as long as you don’t get infected by the bacteria again.
Strep throat, being a bacterial infection, can easily be prevented by ensuring personal hygiene and standards of sanitation. Washing hands frequently, especially when you have strep throat, is the best way to prevent it from spreading to others. Hands should be washed not just with water but with a good soap or a sanitizer to make sure that the bacteria are washed away. Also, do not share your eating or drinking utensils with anyone else and make sure that the utensils are also washed with a sanitizer to kill the strep bacteria which may have been transferred to them.
Strep throat itself does not have any variants but the streptococcus bacteria is of two types:
- Type A – This is the bacteria which causes strep throat. It is highly contagious but the infection can be healed within 3-4 days and does not have long lasting effects.
- Type B – This bacterium is much more dangerous. It does not show any symptoms but its infection can trigger diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases in adults and meningitis in infants.
Although strep bacteria do not cause a very grave illness, its infection may spread to skin, ears or blood which will only exacerbate the illness. Sometimes, if strep infection is not diagnosed or treated on time, especially in new born babies or infants, it can cause inflammatory diseases like scarlet fever in which a red rash develops on the body, rheumatic fever which affects the nervous system or inflammation of kidney.
Strep Throat Home Remedies :
Strep infection causes extreme fatigue along with a high fever. It is best to take some time off work and give your body some time to recuperate. To soothe the soreness in the throat, the following tips are beneficial:
- Prepare a salt water solution with about half teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle with it to reduce the inflammation and redness.
- Sucking on throat lozenges or hard candy also soothes the scratchy feeling in the throat.
- Cold food and drinks like ice cream, smoothies and soda will also soothe the throat. For some people warm green tea also works in soothing the throat.
Prompt treatment of strep throat is recommended so as to avoid other complications like scarlet fever or rheumatic fever. Analgesics like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are given to control the infection while drugs like paracetamol and aspirin are given to reduce the pain. As far as antibiotics are concerned, USA doctors prefer the use of penicillin V while European doctors prescribe Amoxicillin. However, no drug should be taken without a proper prescription.
Strep Throat and PANDAS :
Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with group A streptococci, or rather, PANDAS, as it is commonly known, is a neurological condition which is triggered by strep throat and whose genesis also lies in the same type A strep bacteria. This condition causes obsessive compulsive disorder or tic disorders in children along with emotional turmoil, anxiety etc. However, research is still ongoing as to whether strep throat is always a precursor to PANDAS. Also, PANDAS is still being studied and has not yet been classified as a disease but is simply a neurological condition.