Strep Throat: Causes, Early Symptoms, Complications, Prevention

Dr. Deepak Chaudhari

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Deepak Chaudhari

General Physician

9 min read

Key Takeaways

  • With strep throat treatment, home remedies alone can’t promise a full recovery
  • Antibiotics are crucial to killing the infection completely and bypassing medical care is unwise
  • Avoid smoking as it increases the chances of throat infections

When you get the cold or come down with the flu, the first symptom that most usually experience is a sore throat. This is when you will usually find it hard to swallow or that your throat abnormally scratchy or tender. A sore throat is quite a common symptom for several ailments but is also indicative of an infection that is contagious and potentially severe known as strep throat. Such sickness can affect children and grown-ups equally, with the strep throat symptoms in adults being similar to those experienced by children. As such, strep throat treatment may be similar if you’ve caught it from your child, but it can vary based on severity.

Given the severity of this infection, it is important to understand the importance of timely medical care. With strep throat treatment, home remedies alone can’t promise a full recovery and you run the risk of a relapse. This increases the chances of complications and when left unchecked, strep throat can even result in the development of rheumatic fever. To avoid this and know all about the different strep throat symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention practices, read on.

Strep Throat Causes

Strep throat is primarily caused by bacteria known as streptococcus pyogenes. These are highly contagious and can spread from one person to another, even in a short span of time. This is why you need to be more careful around the people who have or show strep throat symptoms. When a person with strep throat coughs, speaks, or sneezes, the bacteria can travel in the air through small droplets. As a result, your risk of infection increases if you are near an infected person. 

Strep Throat Risk Factors

Apart from this, given below are additional risk factors to be wary of.

  • Touching your nose, mouth, or eyes after coming in contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface
  • Sharing meals or drinks with a person who has strep throat symptoms
  • Staying in crowded places for longer periods 
  • Being around children for prolonged periods
  • Being careful during the winter or early spring seasons as the cold air dries out your throat and nose, weakening your body’s defenses and increasing your risk of contracting such infections
  • Staying in closed spaces with an infected person

Strep Throat Symptoms

When it comes to strep throat symptoms, adults and children usually exhibit a range of indicators. These show up after about 2 to 5 days of exposure to the bacteria and are quite common with those of other infections. This is why it is important to get tested or diagnosed for a strep throat infection.

To know if you need to get diagnosed, here are symptoms to look out for.

  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Throat pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Painful swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • White patches
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth

These symptoms are a sign of possible infection and should be reason enough to see a doctor. In rare cases, you could catch a strep throat infection from someone without symptoms whatsoever. This is when you need to be especially aware of the symptoms, to ensure that you don’t label the disease as a common cold.

Strep Throat Early Symptoms

To avoid this, here’s a checklist you can go by to determine when you need to see a doctor.

  • If you have a sore throat with a rash
  • If your lymph glands are tender and your throat is sore
  • If you have a fever
  • If you have problems with swallowing or breathing
  • If your sore throat lasts longer than 2 days

Conversely, some symptoms that suggest that you do not have strep throat but rather an infection caused by a virus are:

  • Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Runny nose
  • Conjunctivitis

Strep Throat Complications

Strep throat treatment is important mainly because it protects against a wide range of complications. These usually occur when the infection is left unchecked or isn’t dealt with completely. When left untreated, it can spread to other regions of the body, causing infection in the following areas:

  • Skin
  • Blood
  • Tonsils
  • Sinuses
  • Middle ear

In such cases, inflammatory conditions can occur, which include:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Strep throat joint pain
  • Poststreptococcal reactive arthritis
  • Scarlet fever
  • Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis
  • Mastoiditis
  • Peritonsillar abscess
  • Guttate psoriasis

These complications can be serious and cause lasting damage to your body. Avoiding this is a priority at all costs. As a matter of fact, there is a possible link between a rare medical condition and strep infection. It is called paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with group A streptococci (PANDAS). This happens in children and those affected by it experience neuropsychiatric conditions like tic disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Additional Read: Home Remedies of Sore Throat

Strep Throat Diagnosis

Diagnosing strep throat is a key part of treatment and you should ensure that you seek medical care at the first signs. In all cases, the doctor will start with a physical examination, checking the throat and nose for signs. With the initial steps of examination completed, the doctor will then prescribe a few tests to confirm the diagnosis. The tests usually prescribed are as follows.

Rapid Antigen Test

As the name suggests, this is a rapid test that can give results in a few minutes. Due to this, doctors often do a rapid antigen test before any other test. Moreover, it can be done in the doctor’s clinic itself by them collecting a sample through a throat swab. The test will look for strep bacteria on the surface of your throat, and if the results are positive, your doctor may advise medication accordingly. However, if the result is negative and you have strep throat symptoms, your doctor may order other tests. Your doctor may also advise other diagnostic tests if you are at a higher risk of complications that untreated strep throat causes.

 Strep PCR Test

This test is different from the antigen test as it looks for bacteria present in your DNA and not just on the surface of your throat. Similar to the antigen test, your doctor will take a swab sample and send it to a lab for testing. The results for this test can take longer than an antigen test, usually a few days.

 Throat Culture

Here, your doctor will collect a swab sample from your throat, just like the PCR test. The sample will then be sent to a lab where it will be cultured to check for the presence of strep bacteria. The results for this test can also take longer, around two days.  

The throat culture is the one that may be the most trying as doctors will insert a swab toward the back of the throat to collect a sample to test. While this procedure isn’t painful, you may feel a tickle or the sensation of gagging. A swab sample is also required for a rapid antigen test, which will provide a conclusive diagnosis within minutes.

Strep Throat Treatment Options

Strep throat should go away on its own in 3 to 7 days. Another way to go about strep throat treatment is to take antibiotics. However, it is important to note that you should never self-administer any antibiotics you may have around unless they are prescribed by a doctor. This is because antibiotics only work on bacterial infections and you need a conclusive diagnosis to prove this. Another course of treatment is a tonsillectomy, which is the surgical removal of the tonsils. This is generally done if the infected person has frequent bouts of tonsillitis, which is a known complication of strep throat.

Strep Throat Home Remedies

Apart from the medical treatment options, there are a few home remedies too. In fact, with strep throat treatment, natural remedies are important to managing the symptoms effectively. Here are a few reliable home remedies to try.

  • Consume warm drinks
  • Avoid smoking
  • Gargle mouthwash to alleviate the pain in the throat
  • Steer clear of overly hot food or drink
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier
  • Take ibuprofen to help with the pain

Most of the above-mentioned home remedies will serve the purpose of helping alleviate or manage the symptoms of strep throat. However, if these do not help, there is another practice you can try, but its medical benefits are a bit controversial. This is regarding the use of essential oils and it is believed that these oils can help kill the bacteria and keep inflammation in check. Some studies also suggest that essential oils may work better than over-the-counter medication. So, if this is a route you choose to go with, here are a few oils that are known to help.

  • Thyme
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Tea tree
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lemon
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Wild carrot, eucalyptus, and rosemary blend

When using the oils, it is not ideal to ingest these directly. Rather, the best way to use them is to dilute with water and add to a bath or use a diffuser to inhale it. To avoid any possible problems, speak to a specialist about essential oils and how to best use them to help with your symptoms.

Difference between Strep Throat vs Sore Throat

Although both these conditions affect your throat, there are a few major differences. These differences span across causes to treatment methods and at-risk groups, some of which are listed below.


Primary strep throat causes include bacteria and close contact with an infected person or a contaminated space. In the case of a sore throat, the primary causes include viruses and allergens.


Strep throat symptoms are often very similar to that of a sore throat. However, they can be more intense. 


The treatment for sore throat generally consists of home remedies and OTC medications. On the other hand, strep throat treatment consists of antibiotics. Even the healing period for strep throat treatment can be longer than that of a sore throat. In some cases, when treatment is not received, strep throat causes severe complications.

At-risk group

Strep throat is more common in young children than in adults. This is because their immune system is not yet exposed to different bacteria and, as such, is not yet fully developed. However, sore throat can happen to anyone at any age.

Strep Throat Prevention Tips

Prevention is better than cure and this is true for this infection too. To prevent getting a strep throat infection, try these things.

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Do not share any personal items or drinks
  • Eat a balanced diet to keep the immune system healthy
  • Avoid smoking as it increases the chances of throat infections
  • Exercise regularly to boost the immune system

When dealing with strep throat symptoms, adults need to ensure that the infected get the complete course of treatment. Antibiotics are crucial to killing the infection completely and bypassing medical care is unwise. You could develop the above-mentioned complications or even spread them to your loved ones. Moreover, it is important to actively try to prevent getting the infection, which means having knowledge of the risk factors and how to stay safe. However, this isn’t always possible, and this is why it pays to have a reliable and trusted physician. To find such specialists easily, be sure to use Bajaj Finserv Health.

Gone are the days when you must consult only your family physician. Your search for top general physicians ends with Bajaj Finserv Health. You can view a list of top GPs near you in your city. You can also book an online appointment or opt for an in-clinic appointment at your convenience. In doing so, you get access to exciting discounts and deals from empaneled healthcare partners. These benefits and others like it are just one step away.

Published on 21 Jan 2021Last updated on 17 Nov 2022

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

Dr. Deepak Chaudhari

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Deepak Chaudhari

, MBBS 1

Dr. Deepak Chaudhari is an esteemed doctor practicing in Allahabad.


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