Is it a common sore throat or strep? We all know that raw, scratchy feeling in the back of the throat. The cause may be as simple as dry winter air, seasonal allergies, or a cold coming on. But sometimes the culprit is strep, a bacterial infection that can be dangerous if untreated. There are warning signs that you might have strep and not an average sore throat.
Look for unusual spots. Are your tonsils red and swollen? Are there white patches on them or in the back of your throat? Is there pus? If so, it is not strep for sure — other conditions also cause these signs — but it is clear that something is wrong, and you should see the doctor.
Are there cold symptoms? Coughing and postnasal drip can make your throat feel bad, but you are less likely to get them with strep. A virus causes the congestion, runny nose, sore throat and other symptoms that come with a cold.
How high is the fever? Colds sometimes cause a fever, but it is generally low grade. A sore throat with a temperature over 1010F raises the likelihood of strep. But you can have strep even with little or no fever.
Are the lymph nodes swollen? Your lymph nodes are there to trap and destroy germs. When part of your body is infected, the nearest lymph nodes spring into action and swell as they carry out their job. They are more likely to be swollen and tender when you have strep.
How much does it hurt? A sore throat caused by a cold can be painful, but it usually goes away after a couple of days. Strep throat tends to hurt worse and last longer. The pain may be so bad that it is hard to swallow. In some cases, strep may cause nausea, a lack of appetite, or pain in your head and belly.
Is there a rash? One less common sign of strep is a rough, sandpaper-like rash. It starts on your neck and chest, and then spreads to the rest of your body. When this happens, the infection is known as scarlet fever. It looks scary, but it will start to fade after a few days. Antibiotics can help.
What is strep? An infection called Group A Streptococcus causes strep. Antibiotics can ease strep symptoms, get rid of it faster, and lower the risk of complications. Without treatment, the infection can affect your heart or other organs. It is rare, but it can lead to serious illness.
Colds and antibiotics: just say no — you cannot get rid of a cold-caused sore throat with antibiotics. These drugs only work against bacteria. And colds result from a virus. Besides, taking them when you do not need them can make them stop working for your body. Also, bacteria that are exposed to antibiotics over and over can turn into "superbugs" that do not respond to standard medications at all.
Antibiotics for Strep — if you do have this throat infection, your doctor may give you a shot or prescribe 5 to 10 days of antibiotic pills. You will probably feel better in a day or two, but it is vital to take the entire course of medication anyway - otherwise some of the bacteria may survive. Remember, strep can still be contagious until you have been taking the meds for 24 to 48 hours. Wash your hands often, do not share utensils, and throw away your toothbrush after you have had strep.
Try a humidifier or vaporizer. Breathing in steam can keep your throat moist and cut down on pain. Drape a towel over your head to trap the steam, and breathe deeply. Try this for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day.
Use a warm compress. Place a warm heating pad against the outside of your throat. Or make your own compress by wetting a towel with hot water. This may be specially soothing if the lymph nodes in your neck are tender.
Stay hydrated. If you have a fever or if you are not drinking a lot because it hurts to swallow, your body will lose moisture. You need to get more fluids. Avoid citrus drinks, which can irritate an inflamed throat.
Use pain relievers. Do not tough it out. Over-the-counter pain relievers can temporarily dull the pain of a sore throat.
Check out decongestants. These meds can dry up a stuffy nose that is draining into your throat and making it feel raw.
What if it doesn’t get better? If a sore throat lasts over a week or gets worse, check with your doctor again.