If you've beaten strep throat once, you certainly don't want to deal with it again. Yet, some unlucky individuals develop recurring strep throat. Here's what to know about this condition.
What Is Strep Throat?
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, strep throat is named after the bacteria responsible for the illness: group A Streptococcus (GAS). These bacteria live in the tissues of the throat and nose and can easily spread between people.
Symptoms of strep throat can include painful swallowing, inflamed or swollen tonsils, a sore throat, swollen neck glands and small red spots at the back of the mouth, according to the Mayo Clinic. Strep throat can also cause fever, headaches, aching muscles and a rash.
Who Gets Recurring Strep Throat?
Children most commonly develop strep throat, but it can affect people of all ages, notes the CDC. The bacteria can spread through settings such as schools and day care centers, where infected and healthy individuals are in close quarters. Unfortunately, people can get strep throat more than once, and successfully treating it doesn't mean you won't develop the infection again.
To make a diagnosis, a doctor will typically test a patient for the GAS bacteria. However, some patients who aren't suffering from strep throat may still test positively for GAS. This can occur if a patient is a GAS carrier. These individuals carry the bacteria but don't develop the infection, and their sore throat symptoms may instead be caused by a virus. Only by taking a careful look at the patient's symptoms and response to antibiotic treatment can a physician make a correct diagnosis.
Treating Recurring Strep Throat
A course of antibiotics is usually an effective treatment for strep throat. An article in Current Treatment Options in Pediatrics (CTOP) explains that, though the situation is far from ideal, sufferers of recurring strep throat often develop immunity to the infection over time. After a few years, the number of episodes they experience may decrease.
A physician may sometimes recommend a long-term course of antibiotics to prevent recurrent infections — until the end of the school year, for example. The CTOP article also notes that, while tonsillectomy used to also be a common treatment for recurring strep throat, researchers have since determined that the frequency of infection decreases over time, regardless of surgery.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, untreated strep throat can develop into more serious conditions, so if your sore throat doesn't improve after your course of antibiotics, tell your doctor.
While at-home remedies should not replace professional treatment from your doctor, there are several you can try to help soothe pain or inflammation caused by strep throat.
Penn Medicine advises patients to drink warm tea with honey or lemon, suck on ice pops or drink cold liquids. Adults can suck on throat lozenges or hard candies, but these shouldn't be given to young children due to the danger of choking.
Gargling with warm salt water may also provide relief. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargle several times per day. In addition, use a humidifier to moisten the air in your living space. If your pain persists, try taking over-the-counter pain medicines, following the package instructions, or ask your doctor about a suitable prescription option.
Preventing Strep Throat
Good hygiene practices can help prevent strep throat infections, according to the CDC. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before preparing meals or eating. GAS bacteria live in droplets of saliva, so if you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and then put the tissue in the trash. If you don't have a tissue handy, sneeze into your upper arm or inner elbow — not your hands. When caring for someone suffering from strep throat, wash their used utensils, plates and glasses thoroughly.
A bout of strep throat is no fun, but there's plenty you can do to ease your symptoms. See your doctor for a correct diagnosis, and don't hesitate to return for a follow-up appointment if your symptoms don't improve after you've received treatment.