Strep Throat Symptoms and Treatment

Streptococcal Pharyngitis

Portrait of little boy having sore throat
Not every sore throat is strep. Westend61/Getty Images

Most sore throats are harmless inflammations of the pharynx (the back of the throat). The majority are caused by viral infections and are left untreated to run their courses. Strep throat, however, is a bacterial infection caused by the streptococcal bacterium. Strep throat is relatively minor but can lead to more severe infections. It's important to see a physician for an easy test to determine if a sore throat is indeed strep.

Antibiotics for Strep Throat

Because the overuse of antibiotics is usually recognized as one of the causes of drug-resistant strains of bacteria, physicians are more likely to let minor bacterial infections go without antibiotic treatments today. Strep throat is an exception to that rule. Strep throat needs to be treated with antibiotics to stop the infection before it is spread or before it leads to a more severe condition.

If antibiotics are taken, be sure to complete the entire prescription. Stopping antibiotic treatment before the infection is completely cured could lead to a more severe infection that is harder to treat.

It's also very important not to treat all sore throats as if they are from strep infections. The more we all take antibiotics when we don't need to—or don't finish our antibiotic prescriptions—the more we put ourselves at risk for those new, drug-resistant bacterial infections.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

The signs and symptoms of strep throat are similar to many other conditions and include a lot more than a sore throat. If strep throat is suspected, be sure to call a physician. Signs and symptoms of strep throat are:

  • sore throat
  • fever
  • difficulty swallowing
  • nausea & vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • red throat
  • headache
  • tenderness or swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • rash
  • foul odor on the breath

Remember that not all signs and symptoms must be present for a physician to diagnose strep throat.

Spreading Strep Throat

Strep throat is spread through contact with mucus from the nose and throat of infected victims. Most victims are only contagious while they have symptoms. Strep throat spreads easily among children in school or daycare settings. Treatment with antibiotics for 24 hours significantly reduces the ability to spread the disease. It's still important to finish any antibiotic prescription.

Complications of Strep Throat

Strep throat can lead to several, more severe, infections. Some related streptococcal infections include impetigo and necrotizing fasciitis. These conditions are rare.

Treatment of Strep Throat

Treating strep throat means taking antibiotics. Be sure to contact a physician if strep throat is suspected. The throat pain can be alleviated with NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Acetaminophen and NSAIDs can both be used to treat fever. Gargling with salt water several times daily may also help with the pain and swelling.


Is It Strep? (2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.