Expert Health Articles

Acute Strep Pharyngitis (Strep Throat)

Ailing Chen, MD

Caughman Health Center

Acute strep pharyngitis, commonly known as strep throat, is a bacterial infection that affects the throat and tonsils. It is caused by the group A Streptococcus bacterium that can be easily spread through contact with an infected person's saliva or nasal secretions.

However, viruses are the most common cause of pharyngitis in all age groups. Experts estimate that group A strep, the most common bacterial cause, causes 20 to 30 percent of pharyngitis episodes in children. In comparison, experts estimate it causes approximately five to 15 percent of pharyngitis infections in adults.

What are the symptoms for strep throat?

The most common symptoms of strep throat include sore throat, difficulty in swallowing, fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and white or yellow spots on the back of the throat or tonsils. Other symptoms may include headache, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting — especially among children. Rash on face or around the neck may be present with strep infection in some children, which is called scarlet fever.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose strep throat by taking a throat culture or a rapid antigen detection test. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis to determine the appropriate treatment.

What is the treatment?

Strep throat is typically treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin. These antibiotics help to kill the bacteria and reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. It is important to complete the full course of antibiotics to ensure that the infection is fully treated. Please make sure to let your provider know if you or your child is allergic to penicillin and get other choice of antibiotics.

What could you do at home?

Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can be used to relieve the pain and fever associated with strep throat. These medications should be given according to the child's weight. 

Meanwhile, children with sore throat/trouble swallowing or vomiting can easily become dehydrated. It is very important to use oral rehydration solution or popsicles to maintain proper hydration. Please seek additional medical attention if your child cannot keep fluid down or significantly decreases urine output.

What is the prevention? 

Strep throat can be prevented by practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

Be aware of potential complications

Although rare, untreated strep throat can lead to more serious complications, such as rheumatic fever or kidney damage. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect that you or your child have strep throat, as prompt diagnosis and treatment can help to reduce symptoms and prevent complications.