Strep throat is a relatively common bacterial infection that often leads to a severe sore throat and other symptoms. The good news is that it is treatable and is often resolved within a week or two. Still, if you or someone you know suffers from strep throat, you will likely have a lot of burning questions on your mind.
One of the most common questions is will strep go away on its own? The short answer is that it can, but it is not recommended to wait for it to go away on its own without seeking medical treatment as it can lead to serious complications.
In this article, we will take a closer look at strep throat to help you better understand the condition and its treatment options.
- Strep throat is a contagious bacterial infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria.
- Common symptoms include a severe sore throat, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
- Strep throat can sometimes go away on its own however treatment is highly recommended.
- If left untreated, strep throat can lead to serious complications such as rheumatic fever, glomerulonephritis, kidney inflammation, and ear infections.
- Untreated strep throat can remain contagious for up to a month.
- Strep throat is treated with antibiotics with the first line of treatment being penicillin.
- If you think you or your child may have strep throat, it is important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Table of Contents
- What Is Strep Throat?
- What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat?
- What Causes Strep Throat?
- Can Strep Throat Go Away on Its Own?
- How Is Strep Throat Treated?
- What Happens if Strep Throat Is Untreated?
- When Should You See a Doctor?
- In Conclusion
What Is Strep Throat?
Unlike a lot of conditions that cause sore throats, strep throat is a bacterial infection. Specifically, the bacteria responsible for this infection is called group A Streptococcus – often abbreviated as group A strep.
According to the most recent data from the CDC, around 14,000 – 25,000 cases of strep throat occur in the US each year.
What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat?
Strep throat is often difficult to diagnose as it presents similar symptoms to a lot of viral throat infections.
Individuals suffering from this bacterial infection usually experience:
- Severe throat pain that develops without much prior warning
- Difficulty swallowing foods and liquids
- Swollen tonsils that look very red
- White patches or pus on the tonsils and throat – sometimes also visible on the tongue
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
- Very small red spots visible on the roof of the mouth
A lot of these symptoms may also be present if you suffer from tonsillitis. However, research shows that tonsillar and pharyngeal exudate – the white patches or pus in your throat/on your tonsils – is a good indicator that you have strep throat and not tonsillitis.
What Causes Strep Throat?
As mentioned previously, strep throat is caused by a bacterium called group A strep. This type of bacteria is very contagious and can manifest itself in the world around you. Commonly, it spreads through droplets. If someone sneezes or coughs, there is a chance you can inhale these droplets that might have group A strep in them.
Similarly, bacteria can be contracted from touching surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Someone who is infected with strep will be contagious, so they can pass this on to many other people.
This is why it is important to constantly sanitize your hands and avoid sharing food or drink with others. You never know what bacteria or viruses someone is carrying, so it is always a good idea to wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer to remove bacteria.
It is also important to note that strep throat is more prevalent in young children. If you have children or spend a lot of time around young children, you may be at an increased risk of catching strep as an adult.
Can Strep Throat Go Away on Its Own?
Strep throat can sometimes resolve on its own without treatment. Usually, it takes up to a week for the infection to run its course and lead to a reduction in symptoms. However, treatment is highly recommended to reduce the duration of symptoms, prevent complications, and reduce the contagious period.
Healthcare providers almost always prescribe antibiotics for strep throat, which can help speed up the recovery process and reduce the risk of complications such as rheumatic fever.
If left untreated, strep throat can lead to more serious health issues, such as kidney inflammation or heart damage. This is why it’s important to seek medical treatment if you suspect you have strep throat.
How Is Strep Throat Treated?
This bacterial infection is typically treated with antibiotics. Most notably penicillin is the chosen antibiotic to use although other antibiotics such as amoxicillin may also be prescribed in some cases.
As the medicine gets to work, it destroys the bacterial infection and leaves an individual without strep. It is also critical that the full course of antibiotics is taken. Patients who stop taking antibiotics after seeing improvements in symptoms will likely be reinfected.
You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers while you wait for the antibiotics to kick in. Sucking on throat lozenges is also helpful to relieve some of the pain in your throat. Of course, drinking lots of water can also help ease the pain while the antibiotics get to work.
What Happens if Strep Throat Is Untreated?
The reason treatment is recommended – despite the fact that strep can sometimes go away on its own – is that untreated patients remain contagious for longer and run a high risk of developing complications.
Some sources suggest that you can remain contagious for up to a month if you are not treated. Therefore, you run the risk of infecting others, even if you feel fine.
It is also possible that severe complications can follow if strep is left untreated. The CDC states that it can take up to five weeks for untreated strep throat to lead to rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever isn’t contagious, but it can have serious health implications, including affecting the heart.
There is also a serious risk of glomerulonephritis in children. This is a potentially life-threatening condition that affects the kidneys and can lead to kidney damage and failure if left untreated.
Other possible complications of untreated strep throat include kidney inflammation and ear infections. These complications can be particularly concerning in children, who may not always show the typical symptoms of strep throat.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Because this infection is contagious, it is very important to get a diagnosis as soon as you can. Look at the symptoms mentioned earlier and contact a doctor if you or your child suffers from them. Specifically, look for inflamed tonsils and white marks/pus in your mouth. The good news is that there are quick tests for strep throat that will confirm or deny if this is your issue.
Get Help From an Online Doctor
Instead of waiting to get help from an in-person doctor, you can get an instant diagnosis and prescription from online doctors here at DrHouse. Our system is very simple, and you can be paired with a board-certified clinician right away. We even offer virtual doctor consultations, allowing the doctor to see inside your mouth and make an accurate strep throat diagnosis.
The key takeaways are that strep throat is a bacterial throat infection that’s highly contagious and can lead to further problems if untreated.
It can go away on its own, but it’s important to seek medical treatment to prevent complications and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others. If left untreated, strep throat can lead to serious complications such as rheumatic fever.
Antibiotics are the best way of treating this and killing the infection to stop you from infecting others. See a doctor if you spot the key symptoms of strep throat so you can get treatment right away to ease your pain.
- Newberger R, Gupta V. Streptococcus Group A.StatPearls 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559240/
- Group A Streptococcal (GAS) Disease. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/surveillance.html
- Nakao A, Hisata K, Fujimori M, Matsunaga N, Komatsu M, Shimizu T. (2019). Amoxicillin effect on bacterial load in group A streptococcal pharyngitis: comparison of single and multiple daily dosage regimens. BMC Pediatr. 2019 Jun 21;19(1):205. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186%2Fs12887-019-1582-8
- Stephanie Watson (2022). Is Strep Throat Contagious? WebMD. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/understanding-strep-throat-prevention
- Rheumatic Fever: All You Need to Know. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/rheumatic-fever.html
- Strep Throat Treatment. WebMD. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/understanding-strep-throat-treatment
- Pharyngitis (Strep Throat). Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-hcp/strep-throat.html
- Glomerulonephritis. John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/glomerulonephritis