Strep throat is the commonly known and shortened name for streptococcal pharyngitis or streptococcal sore throat which is a rather uncommon bacterial (group A streptococcus) throat infection that involves the pharynx, the larynx and/or the tonsils. Strep throat is highly contagious via direct, intimate or close contact with an infected individual or via infected airborne droplets, contact with contaminated items such as pillow cases, towels, toys, toothbrushes, eating utensils and dishes, and so on.
Strep throat can affect individuals of all ages, genders and ethnicities but it is most prevalent among children between the ages of five and fifteen and mostly among the lower socioeconomic groups as well as third world countries.
The most notable symptom of strep throat is a severe sore throat which make swallowing and even speaking difficult. Additional symptoms of a strep throat may include but are not limited to yellow and white patches of pus in and around the throat; very small red spots on the soft and/or hard palate at the back and the roof of the mouth; sore and swollen lymph nodes; high fever, headache and chills; nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and cramping; earache; an overall rash; and a general feeling of unwellness.
The great majorities of throat infections are viral and require little to no medical attention. Strep throat, however, can lead to serious complications such as inflammations of the kidneys, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever which can then cause pain and inflammation of the joints, rashes and damage to the heart valves and other heart diseases.
Thus, when a sore throat persists beyond 48 hours and it is not accompanied by the common head cold or flu symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and a runny nose, a medical professional should be consulted. A simple and quick throat culture can easily confirm whether the sore throat in question is due to a strep throat or otherwise.
When throat cultures test positive for the streptococcal bacteria, a variety of antibiotics are prescribed to combat the infection and prevent further complications. To help reduce the fever and to relieve the sore throat and other unpleasant symptoms, over-the-counter medications such as aspirins, ibuprofens and paracetamols are often suggested.
In addition to the prescribed and non-prescribed drugs mentioned above, strep throat patients should also:
- (a) Get plenty of bed-rest as sleep helps the body fight off infections. Children should be kept out of school and adults should stay out of work for a minimum of three days.
- (b) Gargle with warm salt water eases the pain of a sore throat and helps the healing process.
- (c) To prevent dehydration and to keep the sore throat lubricated, drinking more water than usually is highly recommended but alcoholic beverages much be avoided.
- (d) Eat soothing and non-abrasive foods such as soups, applesauce, mashed potatoes and cooked cereal; will prevent further irritation. Eating cold foods such as ice cream, yogurt, pudding, jell-o and so on; will actually sooth away soreness of the throat. It is highly recommended that spicy and acidy foods (citrus fruits and fruit juices) should be resisted for as long as the throat remains sore.
- (e) Cool mist humidifiers add moisture to the air and, therefore, help prevent mucous from drying and adding to the throat irritation.
- (f) Avoid smoking as well as being around someone who smokes.