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 yes, but there’s so much more to know about this bacterial infection.
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 that 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?
Yes, the good news is that strep throat does go away on its own. Usually, it takes up to a week for the infection to run its course and lead to a reduction in symptoms. This can happen with or without treatment – thought treatment is highly recommended.
How is strep throat treated?
This bacterial infection is typically treated with antibiotics. Most notably, amoxicillin or penicillin is the chosen antibiotic to use.
Research indicates that a once-daily dosage of antibiotics is all that’s needed to see significant improvements in symptoms over a short period. As the medicine gets to work, it destroys the bacterial infection and leaves an individual without strep anymore. It is also critical that the full course of antibiotics is taken. Patients that 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 does go away on its own – is that untreated patients remain contagious. 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. This is not a contagious disease, but it can be extremely painful for you to deal with.
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
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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 goes away on its own within a week, but 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 of Disase 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 of Disase Control And Prevention. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/rheumatic-fever.html