How To Tell If You Have Strep Throat & What To Do About It

If you or your kiddos wake up with a sudden sore throat that comes out of nowhere and it hurts even to swallow, there is a chance that it could be strep throat. Sore throats are the number one ailment in most viruses, but bacteria could also cause it. Although the only way to determine the actual cause of your throat pain is to take an at-home rapid strep test (or at the doctor's), there are a few “key” signs of strep to look for that will point you in the right direction. So, how do you know if you or your children have strep throat? 

Start by looking at your throat in the mirror, or tell your kids to open up and say ah.


What is Strep Throat?

According to the CDC, strep throat is a bacterial infection on the back of the throat and tonsils that comes from a group of bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes or Group A beta-hemolytic Streptococci (GAS) bacterium. Strep accounts for approximately 1/3 of all sore throat illnesses in children and is highly contagious. It is most common in school-age children between 5 - 15 years old, although adults and babies can get it if exposed. 


Key Signs of Strep Throat Include:

  • Sudden sore throat
  • Pain/difficulty while swallowing
  • Fever
  • Tonsils that are red, swollen, and covered with white dots/patches (pus)
  • Rash (Scarlet fever) 
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes) 
  • Headache
  • Tired/fatigue
  • Loss of appetite (especially in kids)
  • Nausea or vomiting



Tip: If you or your child has a runny/stuffy nose, watery eyes, cough, or sneezing, the sore throat may be viral (common cold). These symptoms are not present in strep throat cases.


Diagnosis & Treatment for Strep Throat

If you or your child show signs of strep for more than two days, it is advised to take a rapid strep test, either at home or at your doctor’s office. It’s best always to have a few tests on hand. You or your doctor will take a quick swab of the back of the throat that will detect if there are antigens (indicator molecules) belonging to the bacterial strain Streptococcus A. You will get the results in under ten minutes.


If Rapid Strep Test is Negative:

If you are exhibiting all the signs of strep, but your rapid test was negative, you’re not out of the woods yet. Your doctor may then send a throat culture to the lab for a second look. If the culture comes back negative, then you do not have strep, and your sore throat is most likely caused by a virus. You don’t need antibiotics, just plenty of rest and hydration. Of course, with any illness, if your symptoms last longer than two weeks or worsen, a trip to the doctor is advised.

If Rapid Strep Test is Positive:

Congrats! You have strep throat. You will most likely be prescribed antibiotics for ten days and feel better in just 48 hours. Remember, strep is highly contagious, so it’s important to take all of the medication to reduce the spread and avoid complications that could arise.

You may also want to take ibuprofen (such as Advil) or acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to reduce throat pain and fever symptoms. Whatever the cause, here are some tips on soothing that sore throat, so you can get back to feeling better fast.


 Written by: Ali Kessler