If you have ever had strep throat, you know how miserable it is. You’ll also appreciate how Dr. Joel Cooper, a board certified family physician at Banner Urgent Care, describes it:
People often say they feel as if they have been “gargling with razor blades” and that they’ve “been run over by a Mack Truck.”
But, a sore throat doesn’t always mean you have strep throat. “Certain viruses, including something called Adenovirus, can cause similar symptoms—sore throat and fever,” said Dr. Cooper.
Either a Rapid Strep Test or a culture sent to a lab is the only way to really tell if you have strep throat.
Because it is a bacterial infection, most doctors will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection with “Zithromax and Amoxicillin being two of the most popular ones used,” said Dr. Cooper.
But, what happens if someone gets strep throat a lot?
Frequent strep throat
For some people, strep throat is more than just an illness. It’s recurring nightmare.
“Sometimes, if the strep throat is occurring with considerable frequency, the patient’s primary care physician will recommend a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for further evaluation and possible removal of tonsils,” said Dr. Cooper. “This can help to solve the problem and help to minimize the frequency of strep throat.”
According to Dr. Cooper, there are two reasons someone may get frequent strep throat:
- Sheer exposure. This happens a lot when there are outbreaks of Strep in school and is most common in winter and spring months. Also, families with several children tend to pass it around to each other.
- Immune system deficiency. When a child or adult has an immune system that is not working the way it should, he or she will be vulnerable to Strep as well as to other infectious diseases.
To reduce your risks of getting strep throat, Dr. Cooper recommends frequent and thorough hand washing and minimizing contact with infected people. Additionally, he recommends things that can boost your immune system: getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious and balanced diet, getting regular exercise and avoiding excessive or prolonged stress, for example.
“Despite these measures, a person who comes in contact with Strep may still get infected. This is because it is a highly contagious bacterial infection,” said Dr. Cooper.
When strep becomes a problem
Rarely, strep throat can become a problem. Dr. Cooper said, if left untreated, strep throat can develop into rheumatic fever, which can cause damage to the heart and possibly other organs as well.
“In addition, when strep is not appropriately treated, it could get into the bloodstream and develop into sepsis, which can be very serious, and even fatal, if not treated aggressively,” said Dr. Cooper.
And, don’t forget: strep is very contagious. People who are most vulnerable to catching it include:
- Infants because the immune system has not fully developed
- Older adults because the immune system may not work as well as it did when they were younger
- People with HIV
- Anyone taking immunosuppressive drugs
- People born with immune deficiency disorders.
Dr. Cooper also noted that pregnant women who have strep should get treated as well. “They should be aware of the fact that certain antibiotics are safer in pregnancy than others,” said Dr. Cooper. “If in doubt, they should check with their OB/GYNs.”
Strep throat is very treatable. A quick throat swab in your doctor’s office and a rapid screen test can determine if you have strep. Then, a course of antibiotics can get you back to feeling well.