Girl with symptoms of strep throat is comforted by her mother


Seven signs you have strep throat

  • Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Strep throat is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.
  • Look for a sore throat with a fever above 100.4 F, but with little to no coughing.
  • Strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever and other serious health problems if not treated with antibiotics.

It’s bad enough when your child’s scratchy, sore throat makes him or her feel miserable. But when a sore throat could be strep throat, it becomes more than a nuisance.

Not only does strep throat spread easily to classmates, friends and family members – it can also lead to severe illness if not treated with antibiotics. That’s why I encourage families to learn all about strep throat. Read on for details about the symptoms of strep throat, causes, treatment and more.

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils. It occurs throughout the year, but is most common during winter and early spring.

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. But strep throat is caused by bacteria -- specifically, group A Streptococcus bacteria.

While viral sore throats usually resolve on their own, strep throat should be treated with oral antibiotics. That reduces the risk of complications like rheumatic fever or other autoimmune diseases, which can damage the heart valves, kidneys and joints.

Although adults can get strep throat, kids get it more often. That’s because they are often together in school and other group settings where the bacteria can easily get passed around.

What are the symptoms for strep throat?

Here are the most common symptoms. You may have all or most of the symptoms or just a few:

  1. Fast onset of symptoms
  2. Red, swollen tonsils and throat
  3. Difficulty swallowing
  4. Pus in the back of the throat
  5. White spots in throat
  6. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  7. Fever, chills and/or headache

Need a strep test? Explore care options. Pictured is a child getting a strep test.  

The strep throat clue I always look for is a sore throat with a fever above 100.4 F but with little to no coughing. At the same time, sore throats caused by viruses or other bacteria can mimic these symptoms, so it’s important to follow up with your provider if you have concerns.

strep or viral sore throat infographic small

Here is the infographic comparing symptoms of strep throat or a viral sore throat in an alternative format.

Is strep throat contagious?

Strep throat is very contagious. Once you or your child are infected, it can take several days to develop symptoms. The disease can spread to others a few days before symptoms start, and it remains contagious until you have been on antibiotics at least 24 hours.

How do you get strep throat?

When someone with strep throat coughs or sneezes, it spreads respiratory droplets containing the bacteria. If droplets get on your hands and then you touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you can end up with strep throat. 

If you or someone in your family has strep throat, wash your hands frequently, and don’t share glasses, plates or eating utensils. Be sure to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

How long does strep throat last?

Most people who receive antibiotics for strep throat feel better within 48 hours. It can take a little longer depending on the severity of your illness, your immune system and how much rest you are getting.

Treatment for strep throat

Strep throat is diagnosed using a rapid strep test. Your health care provider swabs the back of the throat and tests the swab for the bacteria that causes strep. The results are available in minutes.

If the results are positive, your provider will likely prescribe amoxicillin or penicillin. These antibiotics work well on the strep bacteria and usually have few serious side effects.

The good news about antibiotic treatment is that not only does it prevent the complications of strep throat—it also eases symptoms more quickly. But even if you or your child feels better, it’s important to finish the entire ten days of antibiotic treatment.

Need a strep test today? See all our walk-in clinic and urgent care locations, view live wait times and save your spot in line.

Home remedies for a sore throat

Along with an antibiotic to treat strep, these home remedies will help you feel more comfortable.

  • non-prescription pain medicine like ibuprofen
  • gargling with warm salt water
  • warm chicken soup
  • warm tea with lemon
  • electrolyte solution freezer pops

This is a case when grandma’s remedies—gargling with salt water and enjoying a bowl of chicken soup—really are the best. The warm, salty fluid soothes the throat tissues. I also suggest the freezer pops, especially for children whose throats are so sore that they are not eating or drinking much. It gives them a small amount of glucose along with the liquid.


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