What Does Strep Throat Look Like?

We all dread when we have a scratchy feeling in the back of the throat. Is it a cold, dry winter air, seasonal allergies, or is it strep throat? Although most sore throats are caused by viral agents, like the flu or the common cold, they could also be bacterial. Strep throat is an infection of the tonsils and throat caused by a bacteria known as group A Streptococcus. Symptoms of strep are very similar to viral infections, so the only way to know for sure if it is strep is to take a strep test. But there are a few tell-tale signs to look for that will help guide you in the right direction or if you should see a doctor.


What are the Symptoms of Strep Throat, and What am I Looking For?

Without getting too graphic, here are some pics of what strep could look like. As you can see, the throat and tonsils (if you have them) are red, swollen, and inflamed. You will also see white or yellowish patches, which are actually pus. Gross, we know, but if you see that, it usually is strep. You also may see red dots on the tongue or have a rash on parts of the body (scarlet fever). Other symptoms include fever, difficulty swallowing, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. If you see or feel any of the above symptoms, that could be a sign of strep. You should immediately take an at-home strep throat test to see if antibiotics are needed. If you also have a cough, runny nose, or watery eyes, it is most likely viral, and all you can do is rest!


There are two types of strep throat tests that detect if group A streptococcus bacteria are present. 


  1. Rapid Strep Test: A rapid antigen test is the quickest way to know if you have strep. It can identify a case in under ten minutes.
  2. Throat Culture: The second type of strep test is usually only given if the rapid test is negative. This test looks for strep A bacteria as well, but it is sent out to a lab for a more accurate diagnosis than a rapid test, but it can take up to three days to get the results. 


If either test were positive, a doctor would prescribe a 10-day supply of antibiotics. Patients should start to feel improvement after 24 hours of their first dose. Remember, strep throat is highly contagious, so it is best to get treatment fast. We suggest always keeping a few at-home strep throat test kits on hand. 



Written by: Ali Kessler