How do I Treat Strep Throat?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

There is more than one way to contract a sore throat, so it is important to know if the source of the pain is a viral infection, a bacterial infection or a mechanical strain caused by excessive singing or shouting. Many people suffer from viral throat infections, which cannot be treated in the same way as a bacterial infection such as strep throat. The first step in order to treat strep throat is to determine if the symptoms are indeed bacterial and not viral.

A crossection of the human head, including the throat.
A crossection of the human head, including the throat.

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by a specific type of bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes. When a person with strep throat expels infected fluids, those fluids can be transferred to others by indirect contact. Teachers can pick up the strep throat bacteria by touching objects in an enclosed classroom, for example. Although strep throat generally affects the younger population the most, adults who work or live in close proximity with an infected child can easily pick up enough streptococcus bacteria to cause an infection.

Eating cold treats, such as popsicles, may help ease the soreness associated with strep throat.
Eating cold treats, such as popsicles, may help ease the soreness associated with strep throat.

One of the most noticeable symptoms of strep throat is a deep reddening of the throat, accompanied by a white or grayish coating in the area around the tonsils. The sufferer may not be able to swallow without severe pain, and the lymph nodes in his or her neck are often swollen and tender to the touch. Other symptoms include headache, nausea, abdominal pain, fever and general muscle pain. Many of these symptoms are the result of the body's efforts to fight off the bacterial infection with white blood cells and natural antibiotic agents.

A severe sore throat may be a sign of strep throat.
A severe sore throat may be a sign of strep throat.

To treat strep throat, a caretaker could give the patient some over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers and sore throat sprays to alleviate some of the pain. Eating Popsicles or other frozen treats may also lessen some of the pain, but they will not address any of the underlying causes of strep throat. If the swelling is too severe and causes problems with breathing or swallowing, then immediate professional medical care is essential.

Strep throat symptoms can include headaches.
Strep throat symptoms can include headaches.

Because Streptococcus pyogenes is a bacteria, it can only be treated effectively with antibiotics which attack and kill living organisms. A physician will treat strep throat by prescribing a round of antibiotics, either penicillin or an acceptable alternative such as amoxicillin.

Amoxicillin is an antibiotic used to treat strep throat.
Amoxicillin is an antibiotic used to treat strep throat.

Once the antibiotics enter the bloodstream, they should attack the invading bacteria and neutralize them within a week to 10 days after the first dose. It is important for the patient to take all of the prescribed antibiotics, however, even if he or she feels significantly better after a few days. Streptococcus bacteria can re-infect the area if it is not completely wiped out during the round of antibiotics.

Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria.
Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria.

During an outbreak of strep throat, caretakers should use extreme diligence when interacting with the patient. Personal drinking glasses, utensils and plates should be washed and stored separately. Paper tissues and personal washcloths must not be handled with bare hands. Communal items such as telephones, remote controls, computer keyboards or game controllers should be wiped thoroughly before others use them.

It's important to complete the round of prescribed antibiotics to effectively treat strep infections.
It's important to complete the round of prescribed antibiotics to effectively treat strep infections.

Only a small amount of infected material can be enough to spread strep throat bacteria, so the use of hand sanitizers and other antibacterial cleansers is also recommended.

A person with strep throat should not share things like washcloths with others.
A person with strep throat should not share things like washcloths with others.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for strep throat.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for strep throat.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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