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Recognizing the Early Signs and Symptoms of Strep Throat
Not all the conditions affecting the throat are signs of a simple cold or flu. Most often a sore throat, redness of the throat is a symptom of a cold and flu. But there are times when they are just beyond these simple ailments. Strep throat is one such disease affecting the throat. What is Strep throat? Strep throat is a bacterial infection that results in inflammation and extreme pain in the throat. Group a Streptococcus bacteria is known to cause this condition. This condition is a common medical condition and is known to affect children and adults of all ages. However, children between the ages of 5 and 15 are most susceptible to acquiring a strep throat. Strep throat is a contagious disease and can spread from one person to another through sneezing and coughing. What causes a strep throat? Strep throat is caused by bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus. The infection typically infects the pharyngeal tissues, causing an inflammatory reaction to occur affecting the throat and tonsils. These bacterial organisms are often found to thrive on the throat or on the skin, and are responsible for other illnesses as well, such as impetigo (a skin infection). In some rare cases, individuals may carry the bacteria in the throat or skin and yet not exhibit any Symptoms of the disease Though strep throat is one of the most commonly diagnosed causes of sore throats, in many cases symptoms like throat soreness can also arise due to a viral infection. Hence a clear diagnosis is important to start treatment for the condition and preventing potential complications that are associated with this medical condition.
Can the infection spread? Streptococcal bacteria are highly contagious in nature and are carried through airborne droplets when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes, or by sharing foods and drinks with the infected. These bacteria can also transfer from the surfaces of objects to a human’s nose, mouth and eyes. There are mainly two risk factors associated with strep throat i.e.
- Age of the patient: Strep throat infection is a common occurrence among young children
- Time of the year: Strep throat can normally occur any time of the year; however the occurrence increases during spring and fall seasons.
Symptoms of Strep Throat Strep throat infection begins to show it’s symptoms between 1 to 4 days after the individual acquires the infection. This is the general incubation period for the bacteria to grow and show symptoms. The symptoms in individuals can be mild or severe. The sore throat that is the most common symptom associated with strep throat usually triggers suddenly followed by the redness of tonsils and the lining at the back of the throat. There is also significant swelling that may arise in these areas due to the infection making functions like swallowing extremely painful. Individuals particularly kids can also suffer from dehydration in this condition as the pain when gulping down water or even saliva is very severe. Most often since the signs and symptoms of strep throat are similar to other diseases like a viral flu, diagnosis by the doctors becomes a little difficult and often delayed. However, there are a few common signs and symptoms that can help diagnose a strep throat differentiating it from a viral sore throat. Some of these common signs and symptoms include:
- Fever, which could be mild or high
- Sore throat with red and inflamed tonsils
- Swollen and tender lymph nodes on the sides of the upper neck
- White patches or spots on the tonsils
There are a few more signs and symptoms that some Individuals with strep throat can experience which include:
- Pain in the abdominal region Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- A general sick feeling causing uneasiness and discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Small punctate red spots on the soft or hard palate (the roof of the mouth)
- Skin rash(scarlet fever)
Generally speaking having symptoms like runny nose, cough, hoarseness, eye redness, muscle aches, ulcers in the mouth, and diarrhea are mostly associated with a viral infection, the possibility of it being a strep throat must not be completely ruled out without a complete diagnosis is made by the doctor. As mentioned earlier, strep throat is a common infection of the young, mostly kids between 5-15 years of age; however, it can affect older adults as well. Sometimes, strep throat can manifest differently for certain individuals depending on the age and levels of immunity. In such a scenario, following possibilities of strep throat must be considered for a better diagnosis.
- Strep throat in infants:Strep throat in babies and infants is quite uncommon. However, in case the infection does occur; the infant is likely to show symptoms like fussing over eating, irritability, a low-grade fever and a runny nose.
- Strep throat in children:Children are most susceptible to catching strep throat infections. The most common complaints in children is that of a sore throat and painful swallowing. There may also be a loss of appetite and a constant pain in the abdomen.
- Strep throat in older children and teenagers: Strep throat in this group of people can have severe symptoms that can make an individual highly uncomfortable. Common symptoms include sore throat with extreme pain in swallowing, fever that could be high grade or mild and a general ill feeling.
- Strep throat in adults:Typically speaking, adults face milder symptoms of a strep throat. However in some cases the symptoms like sore throat, fever etc. can become severe.
Occasionally, some people show symptoms like bad breath (stinky tonsils) when tonsillitis (whitish deposits on and in tonsils) develop. These deposits are generally dissolved as a person coughs. However, in some cases, these deposits can thicken which leads to food particles getting trapped in them. This produces bad odor as the bacteria attacks the trapped food particles. Removal of these deposits may be done by a qualified healthcare professional. When should you seek medical advice? Individuals, who are experiencing a sore throat along with the other associated symptoms as mentioned earlier, should consider speaking with a health care professional for a detailed diagnosis. Without professional intervention, a conclusive diagnosis of strep throat can be often difficult due to overlapping symptoms. In some cases a strep throat can have other serious causes which if not diagnosed on time, fail to be treated leading to further health complications. A complete course of medication prescribed by the doctor must be taken for a complete recovery. A follow-up must be done to rule out other possibilities of infections in case the strep throat does not show improvement within 4 to 5 days of starting treatment. Following symptoms in case of a strep throat patient call for an emergency hospital visit:
- Breathing difficulties
- Extreme pain and inability to swallow food or liquid
- Unable to open the mouth
- Unable to swallow saliva, or drooling
- Heavy breathing noises
- Bleeding in the throat
- Swelling or redness of the neck
Although most of these signs and symptoms are related to a strep throat infection, they can also indicate other emergency situations such as peritonsillar abscess, epiglottitis, trachealis, or retropharyngeal abscess. Prevention of Strep Throat Following measures can prevent the spread of strep throat: Hand wash: Hand-washing is one of the basic hygiene habits that go a long way in preventing the spread of common infections, including strep throat. It’s especially important to follow this practice when dealing with places that are a home ground for a number of harmful germs such as: hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers, and schools. Wash your hands regularly throughout the day, especially:
- Before eating food or even preparing
- Before touching sensitive organs like eyes, mouth and nose
- Before and after spending time with a patient
- After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
- After sneezing, coughing or blowing nose.
- Keep hand sanitizer ready to kill germs at start
Prevent spreading the infection: At home the items pertaining to the patient must be used, washed and sterilized separately. Avoid sharing towels, food and drinks to prevent the spread of infections. Always cover mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing by means of a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow. Dietary modifications: In case of a strep throat, eating may become difficult due to pain at the time of swallowing. Make necessary diet modifications by choosing foods that are soft and easy to swallow, such as soup, yogurt, and ice cream. Citrus and spicy foods will probably irritate your sore throat. For children with strep throat eating can be difficult, hence try putting food in the blender for them or offer gelatin or ice pops. Rest: Getting adequate rest is the best way to prepare the body to fight infections. Avoid strenuous activities and refrain from going to work or any public places as you could spread the germs. Strep throat is not a serious disease but the symptoms can be painful. The best way to manage the disease is to keep a check on the symptoms and seek timely medical intervention for a faster recovery.