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Strep throat

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Most sore throats are caused by viruses, and will not respond to antibiotics. They need good self-care, pain relief, fluids, and time, to get better. Some sore throats are caused by bacteria, and these will tend to need a course of antibiotics to get better.

‘Strep throat’ is a colloquial term used to describe a bacterial throat infection caused by streptococcus bacteria. Group A Streptococcus (Strep A) is one of the causes of bacterial sore throat, and it usually produces more severe symptoms than a viral sore throat. You may have severe pain, fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, an absence of other viral symptoms such as cough, and symptoms that last longer than a viral infection would be expected to last.

If your doctor suspects a bacterial throat infection, they may take a swab to check the bacteria. Or if they are confident, may start a course of antibiotics immediately.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

Bacterial infections such as 'strep throat' are contagious, and can be passed on like most infections via respiratory droplets from the nose, throat, or mouth. You can wear a mask, avoid close contact with others, and maintain strict hand-washing to avoid spreading the bacteria to others.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Antibiotics from your doctor will kill the bacteria, but here are some additional products that can help with some of the symptoms while you're getting back to your best self:

  1. Pain relievers such as those containing acetaminophen, or anti-inflammatories containing either aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen

  2. Anesthetic lozenges or sprays to numb the pain locally, such as Strepsils

  3. A localized anti-inflammatory spray or throat rinse such as Difflam

  4. Gargling with salt water may give some temporary symptom relief

Am I fit for work?

If you have strep throat, you are not fit for work.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned that you may have strep throat, with symptoms of fever or severe sore throat, then you should book an urgent appointment to see your doctor.

If you have a high fever and suddenly feel very unwell, if you have difficulty swallowing saliva or speaking at a normal volume, or if your symptoms are getting worse quickly, you should urgently speak to your doctor. If you are concerned this is a medical emergency, go to your emergency department.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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