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 throat and nose tissues. They can easily spread between people through talking, coughing, sneezing, kissing, and other airborne and saliva-sharing ways.
While a sore throat that comes on quickly is a common sign of strep throat, be aware of these other symptoms:
- Painful swallowing
- Inflamed or swollen tonsils (sometimes dotted with white pus-filled spots)
- Swollen neck glands
- Small red dots on the roof of your mouth
- Aching muscles
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
Additionally, infants with strep throat might develop a pus-like discharge from their noses and refuse nourishment.
Your sore throat might be a virus, not strep, if it’s accompanied by a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, or pink eye. But it’s always best to have your doctor conduct a GAS bacteria test to determine if it’s strep throat or just a sore throat.
It’s important to know that some people who aren't suffering from strep throat might still test positively for GAS. This can occur if a person is a GAS carrier.
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 where infected and healthy people are in close quarters, such as schools and daycare centers.
If you or your child gets strep throat and undergo a successful treatment plan, unfortunately, you’re not immune to the GAS infection. And even if you avoid people with strep throat symptoms, you could be exposed to a GAS carrier – a person who’s asymptomatic but can still infect you.
But why are some people more susceptible to recurring bouts of strep throat than others? A group of researchers had the same question, and they shared their findings in Science Translational Medicine, published by the American Association of the Advancement of Science. They found factors that, if working together, can lead to recurrent strep throat: genetics, certain cells going haywire, and an inability to produce the necessary antibodies to build strong immunity.
Treating Recurring Strep Throat
Though the research noting the cause of recurring strep throat might be the first step toward a vaccine, a cure is well in the future.
For now, 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 might decrease.
A physician or pediatrician might recommend a long-term course of antibiotics to prevent recurrent infections — until the end of the school year, for example.
And then there’s the question of having a tonsillectomy or not to prevent strep throat from recurring. Research published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal Pediatrics found that removing the tonsils of children did decrease strep throat incidence in the short-term. But there was limited success over the long-term. Depending on your family situation, it still might be an option to discuss with your doctor.
The important thing is getting treatment asap as untreated strep throat can develop into more serious conditions. And it's essential to tell your doctor if your strep throat symptoms don’t improve after taking all the antibiotics prescribed.
Soothing Your Throat at Home
While at-home remedies should not replace professional treatment from your doctor, you can try some things to help soothe pain or inflammation caused by strep throat.
Some helpful ideas that are also good for a non-strep sore throat:
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep is a wonder drug.
- Drink chicken soup or warm tea with honey or lemon.
- Suck on ice pops or drink iced beverages.
- Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon salt or baking soda in 1 cup warm water – then gargle every few hours.
- Use a humidifier to moisten your living-space air, take a hot shower, and breathe in the humidity.
- Take over-the-counter pain medication per package directions.
- Adults only: Suck on throat lozenges or hard candies.
- Avoid dehydrating and irritating items, such as caffeine, alcohol, and smoke.
Preventing Strep Throat
According to the CDC, good hygiene practices can help prevent strep throat infections – and other infectious diseases. These practices include:
- Washing your hands frequently (and for 20 seconds each time) with soap and water, especially before preparing meals or eating. (And carry around an antibacterial hand rub that’s alcohol-based just in case you’re nowhere near soap and water.)
- if you sneeze or cough, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue and then putting 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, washing their used utensils, plates, and glasses thoroughly.
If you recognize strep throat symptoms in your child or yourself, please see your doctor right away despite following prevention methods. According to the CDC, a prescription for antibiotics to fight strep throat should allow you to feel better – usually within 48 hours. And at-home methods to soothe your or your child’s throat until the condition has run its course might provide comfort.
However, if any member of your family gets by strep throat time and time again, have a heart-to-heart with your doctor about the best course of action for recurring strep throat.