Spring is allergy season and often allergies left untreated can develop into infections in the throat. Viruses are the most common cause of a sore throat. However, strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep).
How You Get Strep Throat
Group A strep live in the nose and throat and can easily spread to other people. It is important to know that all infected people do not have symptoms or seem sick. People who are infected spread the bacteria by coughing or sneezing, which creates small respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria.
People can get sick if they:
- Breathe in those droplets
- Touch something with droplets on it and then touch their mouth or nose
- Drink from the same glass or eat from the same plate as a sick person
- Touch sores on the skin caused by group A strep (impetigo)
- Rarely, people can spread group A strep through food that is not handled properly
- You can also pick up the bacteria from a doorknob or other surface and transfer them to your nose, mouth, or eyes
Symptoms of strep
Strep throat symptoms usually are more severe than a sore throat caused by a virus. They can include:
- Sudden sore throat
- Red tonsils that have white spots on them
- Pain when swallowing
- Swollen neck glands
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Dangers of Strep Throat
Strep throat is highly contagious so you can infect others. Also, the bacteria that cause strep throat can spread to other tissues, causing a more serious infection.
Strep infection may lead to inflammatory illnesses, including:
- Scarlet fever, a streptococcal infection characterized by a prominent rash
- Inflammation of the kidney (poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis)
- Rheumatic fever, a serious inflammatory condition that can affect the heart, joints, nervous system and skin
- Poststreptococcal reactive arthritis, a condition that causes inflammation of the joints
It’s important to be able to know when it’s just a sore throat that needs home treatment and when it’s likely to be strep, which calls for a doctor’s visit.
If your doctor suspects strep, a simple, painless and quick test can confirm the diagnosis. The doctor will dab the back of your throat with a cotton swab and the swab is then tested for the presence of the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes.
Viral illnesses can have the same symptoms as strep throat. So it’s important to get a throat swab to confirm the presence of the strep bacteria in the throat. This way, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics for treatment, which are appropriate for bacterial illnesses such as strep.
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