Strep Throat

Last Updated September 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria. It is called “strep” because the bacteria that causes the infection is called streptococcus. Strep throat makes your throat feel very sore with painful swallowing. Your throat may also feel scratchy and raw.

Can other people catch my strep throat?

Yes. Strep throat is contagious. You can pass the strep infection to other people until you have been treated appropriately with an antibiotic. Children who have strep throat should not go back to school or daycare until their fever has gone away and they have taken an antibiotic for at least 24 hours.

Here are more things you can do to prevent spreading strep throat:

  • Frequently wash your hands.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid sharing food utensils (such as drinking glasses, spoons, or forks) while you are sick.

Symptoms of strep throat

The symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen, sore neck glands
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • White patches in the throat or on the tonsils
  • Headache

In addition to the symptoms listed above, children may also have these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Red rash with small spots that is worse under the arms and in skin creases

What causes strep throat?

Strep throat is caused by bacteria. It spreads easily from person to person. You can get it by coming into contact with the nose fluids or saliva of someone who has strep throat. Strep throat is most common in young children, but people of all ages can get it.

How is strep throat diagnosed?

Your doctor may use a test called the rapid strep test to diagnose strep throat. For this test, the doctor uses a long cotton swab to take some of the fluid or mucus from the back of your throat. The results of this test can be ready in less than 15 minutes.

Your doctor may also do a culture of your mucus. If so, he or she will send a sample of your mucus to a laboratory. This test is called a throat culture. It can take up to 2 days to learn the results of a strep culture.

The rapid strep test and the culture can tell your doctor if you have strep throat. If something else is causing your sore throat, these tests do not tell what it is.

Can strep throat be prevented or avoided?

Strep throat is very contagious. It can be hard to protect yourself when you are around people who are infected with strep throat. Try to avoid people who have strep, when possible. If you must be around someone who has strep throat, be sure to wash your hands frequently. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs.

Strep throat treatment

Strep throat is treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Killing bacteria helps ease the symptoms of strep throat and helps it go away a little faster. Antibiotics can also prevent a few rare, but serious conditions that people who have strep throat might develop. These include rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation.

It is important to take all of the antibiotics your doctor prescribes. This reduces the risk that your symptoms will return. It also helps prevent antibiotic resistance.

Should all sore throats be treated with antibiotics?

No. Not every sore throat is strep throat. Bacteria only cause a small portion of all sore throats. The rest are caused by viruses or other problems that antibiotics do not help. Your doctor can do a test to check for strep throat.

What can make my sore throat feel better?

Here are some things that might help you feel better:

  • Take ibuprofen (two brand names: Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol) to relieve pain and reduce fever. Children should not take aspirin. Aspirin can cause a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome when it is given to children younger than 18 years of age.
  • Gargle with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup [8 ounces] of warm water).
  • Adults and older children can suck on throat lozenges, hard candy, pieces of ice, or popsicles.
  • Eat soft foods (such as yogurt and applesauce) and drink cool drinks or warm liquids (such as broths, soups, and tea).
  • Get plenty of rest. Sleep helps your body fight infection.
  • Drink plenty of water. This helps keep your throat lubricated and helps prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid acidic or spicy foods and drinks (such as orange juice and peppers).

Living with strep throat

Strep throat is an infection that typically comes and goes, especially when you’re younger. If you have recurring strep throat, it could be that someone in your family is a carrier of strep. Carriers have the strep bacteria in their throats, but it does not make them sick. Treating carriers can help prevent the spread of strep.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • If I have a sore throat and a fever, should I go to the doctor?
  • How long will it be before my test results come back?
  • What kind of antibiotic should I take?
  • What should I do to make my child more comfortable while he/she has strep throat?
  • My child seems to get strep throat a lot. Could this be a problem with his/her tonsils?
  • Should I stay away from my family members while I have strep throat?


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