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Strep Throat: Symptoms, Contagious, Treatment, and Duration

July 21st, 2023 | 5 min. read

By John D Edwards, MD

strep throat signs symptoms and treatment options

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that often affects school-age children, but can also affect adults. The bacteria responsible for strep throat can be found in the mucus in the throat and nose, and can spread easily through contact. If someone contracts the bacteria, they will likely start experiencing symptoms within 2 to 3 days. 

About 1 in 10 adults who have a sore throat actually have strep throat.



What is strep throat? 

Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the throat and tonsils. It is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus. It is common in children ages 5 to 15, although anyone can get the infection.

Strep throat spreads easily when in contact with a sick person through nose and mouth secretions. It causes a painfully scratchy, sore throat with fever and swollen glands.



Please schedule an appointment for your strep throat consultation at any of our ten convenient locations in Houston, TX, today.




What are the symptoms of strep throat? 

The strep symptoms can appear 2 to 5 days after coming into contact with the bacteria. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Sore throat with occasional coughs
  • Fever, headache, and stomach aches
  • Red, swollen tonsils with white patches of pus
  • Red blotches on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck that may be tender.
  • Pain when swallowing can feel like you are swallowing glass. 

Some other symptoms are:

  • Loss of appetite with nausea or vomiting, especially in small children
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • A general feeling of unwellness
  • Children may develop a rash known as Scarlett fever

While complications for strep throat are rare, the pain from having it can be excruciating. 

Is strep throat contagious? 

Strep throat can be highly contagious for about 2 to 3 weeks in people who have not started treatment with antibiotics. An individual who has begun antibiotic therapy for strep throat is no longer contagious after about 24 to 48 hours of treatment.

The bacteria causing the strep throat infection can spread from the infected person by direct contact with mucus droplets. It can also spread from indirect contact by sharing drinking cups and utensils.

People who spend time in group settings, particularly daycare centers and schools, are at risk of contracting strep throat.

What is the treatment for strep throat? 

Strep throat treatment involves using antibiotics and other medications. Medicines are used to cure the infection, relieve the symptoms, and limit its spread while preventing further complications.


After diagnosing the disease, your doctor will most likely prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat it. When taken within 48 hours, antibiotics can limit the spread of the disease while reducing the severity and duration of the infection. Taking antibiotics can also cure the condition, preventing further complications.

Tell your doctor if you or your child is allergic to penicillin. In such a case, your doctor will change the antibiotic. Antibiotic treatments can have side effects like skin rash or diarrhea.

With antibiotics, you can start feeling better in a day or two. Call your doctor if the symptoms do not improve in 48 hours.

Children with strep throat on antibiotic treatment can return to school within 24 hours after beginning the treatment.

To completely recover, you must take the full course of antibiotics prescribed even when you feel better. Your doctor may prescribe you to take antibiotics for strep throat for 10 days. Stopping early or missing doses can cause antibiotic resistance, making treatment difficult in the future with serious complications like kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever.

Other medications

Your medical provider can also prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen or acetaminophen like Tylenol to reduce fever and throat pain.

Although Aspirin can be used in children aged three and above, caution must be practiced while prescribing the medicine to teenagers and children. Children recovering from chickenpox or flu must never take aspirin. Such children can risk contracting Reye’s syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition in such a case.

Currently, there is no vaccine for strep throat. You can get strep throat multiple times. 

How long does strep throat last?

Strep throat can typically resolve in three to five days if left untreated, although it can take 7-10 days to resolve in some people. However, treatment using antibiotics must be started after the diagnosis of the infection to limit its spread and prevent complications.

The symptoms of strep throat typically resolve in 1 to 3 days after starting the antibiotic treatment.

Most people who have strep throat tend to feel work for 2 to 3 days prior to beginning to feel better. Generally, the symptoms of strep throat improve around day 3 or day 4. 

How do you get strep throat? 

Strep throat spreads easily after coming in contact with an infected person's oral and nasal mucus droplets, or fluids or saliva from the nose or mouth. The mucus droplets can be released into the air when the infected person sneezes, coughs, talks, or laughs. Strep throat spreads from person to person rather easily.

You can get strep throat from an infected person by:

  • Inhaling the mucus droplets released in the air from coughing, sneezing, and talking.
  • Sharing utensils, cups, glasses, and plates or eating with an infected person.
  • Touching infected surfaces like doorknobs or tables and then spreading the infection by rubbing the eyes and nose by hand.
  • Touching skin lesions infected with germs.
  • In rare cases, by improper handling of food.
  • Shaking hands with someone who is still contagious with strep throat.

On inhaling or coming in contact with the bacteria, a person can begin to show the symptoms of the bacterial infection within 2 to 3 days of exposure.

How to get tested for strep throat? 

Your medical provider may conduct certain tests to confirm the disease when you or your child begin to show the symptoms. The testing for strep throat involves three tests, both involving soft swabs.

Your healthcare provider will examine you for the symptoms and brush one or two swabs over the back of your throat as test samples. The tests done are:

  • A rapid strep or antigen test: Your doctor will conduct a rapid antigen test on the swab taken from your throat. The test can identify strep bacteria by examining the throat antigens. You can get the test results within 30 minutes.
  • A throat culture: The swab is sent to a lab for testing. The lab will notify your doctor when the test results are ready, who will then inform you.
  • Molecular (polymerase chain reaction or PCR) test: The test also uses a swab sample from the throat.

A positive throat culture or rapid strep test will confirm the disease diagnosis.

Tips to prevent getting or spreading strep throat

Follow these tips to avoid spreading strep throat or getting it yourself.

  • Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
  • Wash your hands before preparing foods that you or others will be eating. 
  • Use alcohol-based sanitizers if unable to wash hands. 
  • Avoid contact with people who have strep throat or even suspect they might have it. 
  • Discard used tissues. 

Are there any home remedies for strep throat?

It is best to seek medical treatment for strep throat. However, there are some things you can do to make your throat feel less painful.

  • Eat honey or drink fluids with honey.
  • Use a humidifier.
  • Gargle with warm salt water.
  • Eat soothing foods, like ice cream or chicken soup/broth. 
  • Rest. Getting plenty of rest can help your body fight the infection.

When to see an ENT doctor for a sore throat?

Although sore throats are common in children and adults, you need to visit an ENT doctor in the following situations:

  • You have a persistent sore throat that lasts for a week or more.
  • You suffer from a throat infection with painful swallowing, inflammation, and visible white spots in the throat and tonsil tissues.
  • You had a throat injury that requires proper assessment and treatment from a medical professional.
  • You struggle to swallow or have pain while swallowing.
  • You experience total voice loss, also known as Laryngitis, that requires immediate medical attention.
  • You have a sore throat without obvious reasons, like allergies or a cold.
  • You have a fever over 101 degrees.
  • You have a lump on your neck.
  • You experience a lasting earache.
  • You have mucus or blood in your saliva.
  • You have trouble breathing, swallowing, or opening your mouth.

Schedule an appointment to evaluate and treat your strep throat with Houston ENT & Allergy.

Although common in children and adults, strep throat can have serious complications if left untreated. If you are experiencing a painfully dry and scratchy throat with fever and inflamed tonsils, request an appointment with one of our doctors at Houston ENT immediately.

Our ENT specialists are committed to understanding your specific concerns and offering tailor-made treatments for a complete recovery.

Schedule an appointment with us here or call us at (281) 649-7000.


John D Edwards, MD