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Starting late last year, cases of strep throat spiked—and earlier than expected. And they’ve continued to remain high.
“We typically see rates increase from December to April,” says Dr. Jordan Knox, a family medicine physician at Kettering Health Springfield . “Nationally, there was an earlier rise in the less common but more severe iGAS (Invasive group A strep), and there still seem to be high rates of strep infections going around. We are definitely seeing it in the clinic, sometimes even when we expect the test to be negative.”
And as the cyclical surge of allergies and colds arrives, it has many wondering if their scratchy throat is a sign of spring or strep.
Sore or strep throat?
“The most common cause of a sore throat is a virus,” says Dr. Knox.
Sore throats can also accompany respiratory conditions, such as a cold, or accompany environmental allergies. Symptoms of these kinds of sore throats include
- pain, discomfort, or scratchiness
- postnasal drip
- a cough
Strep throat, however, is caused by bacteria. “And it’s far more common between the ages of 5 and 15,” says Dr. Knox. “It’s relatively uncommon, but can happen, below the age of 3 and over the age of 45. But it’s always best to see your doctor to see if you need a test.”
Certain symptoms and risk factors will indicate to a doctor the likelihood of strep throat.
Along with risk factors of age and possible exposure to others who had strep throat, your doctor will look for clues, including
- swollen tonsils
- a fever, usually above 101°F
- white spots on the tonsils or at the back of the throat
- swollen lymph nodes at the front of the throat
- a rash, as the same bacteria that causes group A strep also causes scarlet fever
Your doctor will also look for an accompanying cough. “Typically, with a cough, it’s not strep,” says Dr. Knox. “A sore throat without a cough is more concerning for strep.”
The last thing you’ll want to do, though, is guess. “The most responsible thing to do is be evaluated,” says Dr. Knox.
How do you treat both?
A sore throat caused by a virus or allergies won’t need antibiotics. It’ll typically go away on its own within a few days. To help relieve any pain, Dr. Knox offers a few at-home options:
- Gargle warm salt water.
- Take anti-inflammatories unless directed otherwise (because people on blood thinners, or with a history of kidney disease or gastric bypass cannot take NSAIDs).
- Try cold liquids or popsicles, especially if your throat feels inflamed.
- Drink warm or hot tea with honey.
“Honey will help coat the back of your throat,” says Dr. Knox. “It even has some antibacterial properties.”
Strep throat, on the other hand, will often be treated with antibiotics. “Starting (and completing a course of) antibiotics will help prevent complications.” Along with antibiotics, staying home until your fever is gone will help keep it from spreading to others. And you should start to feel better soon. “Most people on antibiotics will start to feel better in about one to two days,” says Dr. Knox.
Talk to your doctor if you experience a sore throat.Find a provider
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