Sore throats have many causes. These include viruses, like the ones responsible for mononucleosis and the common cold, as well bacteria, which cause strep throat. Smoking, air pollution and allergies to mold, pollen and pet dander can also lead to sore throats. While the pain involved with sore throats may feel similar regardless of the cause, it's important to distinguish strep throat from other types of sore throats. If left untreated, strep throat can have severe effects on health.
Group A streptococcus bacteria cause strep throat. While anyone can contract the illness, it's most common in children and teenagers. Breakouts often occur during the school year when large groups of young people come into close proximity to one another. Bacteria in the nose and throat infect others via coughing, sneezing and handshaking. If left untreated, strep throat can lead to kidney failure and rheumatic fever, a disease that causes rashes, joint inflammation and, in some cases, damage to heart valves.
It can be hard to tell the difference between strep throat (caused by bacteria) and a more common viral-based sore throat. Aside from pain in the throat, other symptoms of strep throat include swollen lymph nodes and tonsils, white and red spots in the throat, difficult swallowing, headache, stomach pain, fever, general uneasiness, rash and loss of appetite.
Seek medical attention you suffer from a sore throat and other symptoms of strep throat. Your doctor will likely perform an in-office rapid strep test, in which fluid samples are extracted from the back of the throat via a cotton swab. The rapid strep test takes roughly 5 minutes to complete. If the test is positive, strep throat is present. If negative, samples will often be tested further in a laboratory to make sure the bacteria aren’t present.
For sore throats caused by viruses, you have few treatment options. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses. Most sufferers wait for the symptoms to clear up on their own, which can take anywhere from a week to 10 days. In contrast, strep throat requires medical treatment, which often takes the form of antibiotics. Symptoms should begin to clear up after 2 or 3 days of treatment. Even after you feel better, complete the recommended antibiotic course, as the bacteria can remain contagious for long periods of time and potentially cause problems for others. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
To prevent spreading, keep infected persons’ eating utensils, drinking glasses and other personal items separate and wash them often and thoroughly. Infected individuals should avoid sharing food, drinks, napkins, towels or any other conduits for bacteria. Hand sterilization and covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing are also important preventative measures.