Everybody has had one at some point or another: a sore throat, that burning, stinging sensation that makes it hard to swallow. As uncomfortable as it may be, you can take solace in the fact that it will go away in a few days. But if it lingers, it can be a sign of strep throat, a much more serious condition that needs medical attention.

Irritation or a virus usually causes a sore throat. Strep is an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by bacteria, more precisely, by group A Streptococcus bacteria.  If untreated, strep throat can cause complications, such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever. Although the condition can affect anyone of any age, it is most prevalent in children.”

Although strep throat is a common throat problem, most people do not understand exactly what causes it or how dangerous it can be. Streptococcal bacteria are highly contagious. They can spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through shared food or drinks.

Sore Throat

Unlike a sore throat, which is often a precursor to the common cold with a cough and runny noses being the chief hallmarks, symptoms of strep are different.  They include fever, red and swollen tonsils, inflamed lymph nodes, and sometimes even stomach pain, nausea or vomiting.  For some patients, strep never goes away, or it keeps coming back. That condition is known as “recurring strep throat."

Recurrent strep throat: a closer look

First, some forms of strep throat are resistant to the antibiotics commonly prescribed to combat it, in which case the patient’s physician might have to take another medicinal route.  Second, strep bacteria is quite strong.

Tonsillectomy

If a patient has had strep throat seven or more times in one year, doctors will usually perform a tonsillectomy, which reduces the frequency and severity of strep infections. 

Home remedies that provide temporary relief

1. Eat and drink wisely: Seek out soft, soothing foods that will not further irritate your throat. Cold food and drinks, such as popsicles, can also help ease the pain.

2. Gargle with salt water: Gargling several times a day with warm salt water can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria. Doctors generally recommend dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water.

3. Use a cool mist vaporizer: Adding moisture to the air can help ease discomfort. Choose a cool-mist humidifier and clean it daily because bacteria and molds can flourish in some humidifiers. Saline nasal sprays can help to keep mucous membranes moist as well.

4. Practice good hygiene: This can go a long way toward fighting off bacteria and avoiding a recurring strep throat. Wash hands frequently, use antibacterial hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, and stay away from public areas as much as possible to avoid catching germs.