Strep throat is a bacterial infection, caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, that causes pain and inflammation in the throat. People of all ages can get strep, but the most common demographic is children between five and 15, especially in winter and early spring. The bacterium spreads quickly and easily through people in close contact, such as those in school, through the usual methods of sneezing and coughing.
Doctors generally diagnose strep throat with a throat swab or throat culture. If strep is confirmed, they will usually prescribe antibiotics, which can increase recovery and prevent the spread of the bacterium to others. You can reduce your child's risk of getting strep throat by reminding them to follow basic hygiene procedures such as washing their hands well and avoiding sharing personal items, especially during the time of year when an infection is most likely. Even with these measures, it's possible your child will get strep throat, and watching for specific symptoms can get a quick diagnosis and treatment.
A fever generally means the body is fighting an illness or infection. A person with strep throat will usually develop a temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts at least 48 hours. During this time, over-the-counter pain relief medications can help lower the fever, but parents who suspect strep or something more serious than a basic virus should take their child to see a doctor as well, to begin treatment for the infection.
Parents should discuss with a doctor before administering over-the-counter (OTC) medications to their feverish children — in rare cases, giving a child OTC pain medications when they have influenza or strep throat can result in a dangerous reaction called Reye’s syndrome.
Chills are a symptom of strep throat directly related to the fever — the immune system tells the brain to raise the body's temperature to above 98.6 degrees (at which point bacteria struggle to survive), and once this message is sent, the brain sees the body is lower in temperature than it should be and causes shivering to bring the temperature up to this new number.
The ill individual can help the body out and minimize chills by keeping their body warm. Bundle your child up in cozy pajamas and plenty of blankets, and offer them warm liquids if they can swallow them. Ultimately, the chills are not dangerous but a normal physical reaction to the immune system's work.
People with strep throat often develop a sore throat quite suddenly, usually overnight. Though a sore throat is a potential symptom of a wide range of infections, it is often much more painful when strep throat is the cause. Additionally, while strep throat can trigger coughing, a sore throat without any coughing is often a telltale sign of strep.
Strep is an extremely contagious bacterial infection that has a longer incubation period than many similar conditions. Because of this, when a child develops a sore throat, it is important to rule out other issues, identify strep throat, and begin treatment at the earliest symptoms in order to prevent complications and avoid spreading it to others.
A severe headache is one of the more well-known signs of strep throat in both adults and children. The bacteria that doctors associate with strep throat can spread quickly to other areas of the body, causing further illness and more pain. Other affected areas can include the tonsils, sinuses, and skin. Some people develop blood-related illnesses or infections of the inner ear. These conditions can vary in severity, from minor to potentially life-threatening, though all of them can result in a headache.
Over-the-counter pain medications can usually alleviate this symptom. In rare cases, people develop complications like acute proliferative glomerulonephritis following a strep throat infection, which causes a headache as one of its key symptoms.
When a person develops strep throat, the infection causes inflammation and swelling of the tissues in the throat, which makes swallowing food, liquids, and even saliva difficult and even painful. Throat lozenges or cough drops can provide short-term relief and help with the pain and discomfort. Gargling with warm salt water is another simple way to temporarily relieve sore throat pain and make swallowing a bit easier.
It is important to provide the body with proper nourishment so it can fight off the infection, so people with strep throat should find ways to eat whenever possible. Some common solutions are primarily consuming nutritious liquids such as soup and juice and soft foods like jello.
Another common symptom of strep throat is a loss of appetite. Usually, people lose their appetite because swallowing becomes much more difficult. In some instances, however, issues like pus draining into the stomach, muscle cramps, and abdominal pain trigger nausea and vomiting, which limit appetite.
Unfortunately, failing to consume sufficient nutrients because of this symptom may prolong the illness because the body lacks the fuel to properly fend off the infection. A lack of proper nutrition can also leave the ill person with aches and pains, lethargy, or a feeling that they cannot focus or gather their thoughts. If a person fails to eat properly for a long enough period, they will experience symptoms of malnutrition.
Lymph nodes are small, kidney-shaped organs that are essential to the lymphatic and adaptive immune systems. When fighting an infection, these nodes will begin to swell, becoming tender and painful to the touch. Cervical lymph nodes on either side of the throat that are experiencing these symptoms are primary symptoms of strep throat.
When a doctor is attempting to diagnose the condition, feeling the cervical lymph nodes is one of the first steps. However, severe infections may cause the lymph nodes to become visibly swollen. Even after a physician has diagnosed strep throat and prescribed antibiotics, it may take up to 48 hours for the lymph nodes to return to their usual size.
As the Streptococcus pyogenes bacterium responsible for strep throat is moving through the body, small patches of a red, sandpaper-like rash may begin to appear. This is called scarlet fever and it usually develops one or two days after other strep symptoms. Scarlet fever often begins at the flexion of the elbow and other joints before moving to the trunk of the body.
While the rash may feel itchy, it is rarely painful. In conjunction with the rash, the tongue may become red and bumpy. Though most people will assume scarlet fever is a reaction to irritants such as new detergent or chemicals, if it is present in conjunction with other symptoms of strep, it is best to see a doctor for a strep test.
Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and labored breathing are a few potential symptoms of strep throat, though they are not common. Any respiratory infection can cause issues breathing. In the case of strep throat, inflammation of the throat tissues or mucus buildup can be responsible. These conditions can also lead to more severe respiratory and inflammatory diseases, as well as illnesses such as scarlet fever and inflammations of the kidneys.
In rare instances, strep may even cause rheumatic fever, which also affects the joints, heart, skin, and nervous system. Experts have also found links between strep throat and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS); strep can worsen the symptoms of PANDAS.
In most cases, strep throat presents without any coughing. However, irritation of the throat can create a nagging or itching sensation that drives a person to feel like they have to cough. Additionally, throat pain may temporarily improve after coughing, leading to unnecessary coughing in an attempt to alleviate the symptom.
Because strep bacteria travel through infected water droplets, coughing is one of the most significant ways hosts spread the infection. The bacteria that causes strep throat is highly contagious and can easily spread through the air. A person who has coughed into their hand and then touches a door handle or other public surface can facilitate the transfer of the bacterium.
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