Man with strep throat visit urgent care

5 Things You Need to Know about Strep

Oct 03, 2022 Urgent Care Share:

It’s cold and flu season. But along with all those pesky upper respiratory viruses, we can also expect to see a rise in cases of strep throat.

While not every sore throat needs a trip to the doctor, untreated strep throat can lead to complications. These five things that everyone should know about strep throat can help you understand what to do the next time you have a sore throat.

Not Every Sore Throat is Strep Throat

While your sore throat may be really painful, it may not be caused by strep. Sore throats have many causes, including allergies, viruses, and irritants.

Many colds and upper respiratory infections start off with a scratchy, sore throat. As the cold progresses, that sore throat can worsen and become very uncomfortable. But even if you’re running a fever, it’s unlikely that this sore throat is caused by strep. Many common viruses can cause a sore throat that isn’t strep, including the flu, COVID-19, and mono.

Your sore throat may also be caused by tonsillitis. When you have tonsillitis, your throat is very sore, your lymph nodes may be swollen, and your tonsils become red and swollen. In some cases, you may also have white spots or pockets of pus on your tonsils. While tonsillitis and strep throat are very similar and have overlapping symptoms, their causes and treatment are different.

Your sore throat probably isn’t strep if it is accompanied by a cough, runny nose, or in conjunction with pink eye.

You Can't Tell if it's Strep Without a Test

It’s impossible to be sure if someone has strep throat without a test, but it does have some classic symptoms.

Common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Fever
  • Red, swollen tonsils (that may have white patches or pus)
  • Very painful sore throat that comes on quickly
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red spots on the roof of your mouth and/or the back of your throat

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms with your sore throat, it’s a good idea to see an urgent care doctor. When you visit an urgent care doctor with symptoms of strep throat, your doctor will examine your mouth and throat. Your doctor will also examine your lymph nodes, located at the base of your throat, to ensure that there aren’t any abscesses present.

If your doctor determines that your symptoms are consistent with strep throat, they’ll order a rapid strep test. To test for strep throat, a nurse will perform a simple throat swab. Using a rapid antigen test (similar to a COVID-19 test), the lab will test for the presence of the Streptococcus bacteria. The results of your test will be available while you’re still at the doctor’s office.

If your test comes back positive, your doctor will treat you for strep throat. If your test comes back negative but your doctor still suspects strep, they may order a throat culture to confirm the results of your rapid test. Your throat culture will take a couple of days, but if strep is found, your doctor will then prescribe a course of antibiotic treatment.

Strep Throat is Caused by Bacteria

While most sore throats are caused by viruses, strep throat is caused by bacteria. There are several strains of Streptococcus bacteria, but the strain that causes strep throat is known as Group A strep.

The type of bacteria that causes strep throat is highly contagious. Strep throat is spread from one person to another through respiratory droplets while talking, coughing, or sneezing. Symptoms of strep throat can start to appear within a couple of days of exposure to the bacteria.

Because bacteria cause strep throat, it can be treated with antibiotics. But if your sore throat is caused by something else, antibiotics won’t help you get better. If your strep test is negative, you can care for your sore throat with over-the-counter pain relievers and numbing sprays to help you feel more comfortable while the virus runs its course.

You Need to Treat Strep Throat

While your urgent care doctor will never prescribe you antibiotics if they’re not needed, antibiotics are an important part of strep throat treatment. While a viral sore throat will go away on its own, untreated strep throat can lead to complications.

Although complications are rare, untreated strep throat can lead to abscesses in your throat or lymph nodes, rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, or inflammation of your kidneys. If your urgent care doctor determines that you do have strep throat, they may give you the option of oral antibiotics or an injectible antibiotic that can be administered in-office. (An injectable antibiotic is a great option if you’re having trouble swallowing.) Your antibiotics should help you feel better in a day or two.

You Can Still Get Strep, Even Without Tonsils

Although it’s not as common, you can still get strep throat even if you’ve had your tonsils removed. While tonsils give the bacteria a place to grow, strep can still grow in your throat without tonsils. People without tonsils usually have less frequent and less severe strep throat infections than those who still have their tonsils. You can still carry the Streptococcus bacteria and transmit it to others, even if you don’t have tonsils.

With or without tonsils, you should visit your doctor if you have symptoms that are consistent with strep throat. Remember, treatment for strep throat is important for helping you avoid potential complications.

It's Sore Throat Season

Sometimes a sore throat is more than just a sore throat. If you suspect you've got strep throat, a visit to urgent care is just what the doctor ordered. MedHelp urgent care clinics are open seven days a week with five convenient locations in the Birmingham metro area.