Sore Throat (cont.)

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What is strep throat and why is it different?

Strep throat is caused by Streptococcus bacteria, which is the same bacteria that causes rheumatic fever. Only 5%-10% of adult sore throats are caused by strep, whereas about 15%-40% of sore throats in children are related to strep. For this reason, many health care practitioners will recommend a rapid strep test for a patient with a sore throat. The rapid strep test can usually be done in the doctor's office and takes 15-20 minutes. If the result is negative, it is often followed with a strep culture. If either of these is positive, the sore throat is generally treated with another antibiotic.

A major objective of treating strep throat is to prevent the development of rheumatic fever, a complication of strep throat and a serious illness that can cause joint pain and heart valve damage. However, antibiotics do not necessarily speed the healing of the sore throat itself, and antibiotics do not help a sore throat unless it is caused by bacteria. Another strep-related illness, scarlet fever, can cause a rash, but will not cause heart injury or joint pain.

When should I seek medical care for a sore throat?

Seek medical care immediately at an emergency department if the person has any of the following:

  • A throat that is so swollen the person is having trouble breathing.
  • If the person is unable to swallow liquids or his or her daily medications.
  • If the person becomes dehydrated, faint, lightheaded, or has heart palpitations.
  • If the tongue or lips swell up.

Call a doctor if the person has any of the following:

  • If the person has been in contact with someone with strep throat and he or she has a sore throat, it is reasonable to have a strep test ordered.
  • If the sore throat is associated with a fever, swollen "glands" (lymph nodes), or white patches on the back of the throat.
  • If the sore throat is not associated with other cold symptoms (runny nose, watery eyes, sinus congestion).
  • Any sore throat that has a sudden onset and is associated with a fever.
  • If the person is having trouble swallowing soft food (pain with swallowing is to be expected with a sore throat).
  • If the person sore throat persists for more than a week.
  • If the person has a sore throat and the front of the neck is sore and stiff.

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Sore Throat - Length Symptoms Lasted Question: How long did the symptoms of your sore throat (pharyngitis) last? Was there anything in particular that helped with pain/symptom relief?
Sore Throat - Treatments Question: What treatments or home remedies have been effective for a sore throat?
Sore Throat - Home Remedies Question: Please share home remedies for treating a sore throat and related symptoms.
Sore Throat - Experience During Pregnancy Question: How did you treat a sore throat during pregnancy?

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