What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat? 8 Signs

Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2022
What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat
Symptoms of strep throat include sudden throat pain that becomes worse with swallowing, loss of fever, appetite, and swollen neck glands

Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils (which are a pair of glands at the back of the throat). The infection is caused by a bacterium called group A Streptococcus.

Strep throat is incredibly contagious, especially among close family members. It is typical in school-age children but also occurs in adults. Strep throat can sporadically lead to severe illnesses, such as rheumatic fever, which can affect the heart valves. Hence, it's critical to correctly diagnose and treat strep throat.

Strep throat often disappears after 10 days of appropriate therapy.

The 8 primary symptoms of strep throat are as follows:

  1. Sore throat that appears suddenly
  2. Throat pain that becomes worse as you swallow
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Fever
  5. A general feeling of being unwell
  6. Pain in the ear when swallowing (sometimes)
  7. Neck glands that are painful and swollen
  8. Tonsils that are bright red and may contain pus

What are the signs and symptoms of strep throat?

Symptoms start to show up two to five days after exposure to the strep bacteria. They could be minor or serious and include:

  • Fever that may begin suddenly and is often the highest on the second day
  • Swollen, tender neck glands (lymph nodes)
  • Chills
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red, sore throat, which may have white patches

Other symptoms may include:

  • General ill feeling
  • A loss of appetite and abnormal sense of taste
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • A rash resembling scarlet fever
    • The chest and neck are where the rash first shows up
    • It could then spread throughout the body
    • The rash may have a sandpaper-like texture

According to the CDC, some signs point to a viral cause instead of a group A Streptococcus. These signs may include:

How contagious is strep throat and what are the risk factors for it?

Strep throat is extremely contagious and distributed by airborne droplets (through sneezing, coughing, and sharing food, drink, or utensils). Children can potentially contract the infection by handling objects contaminated with the bacteria and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. People with strep throat can infect others until they have been on antibiotics for 24 to 48 hours.

Two risk factors for strep throat

  1. Age
    • Children experience strep throat more frequently than adults. Children in the age group of 5 to 15 years are especially susceptible to it. It is extremely rare for children younger than three years to be affected by strep throat.
    • Adults who are more vulnerable to developing strep throat include:
      • Parents of children in school
      • Adults who interact with kids frequently
  2. Group settings
    • The most frequent risk factor for infection is having close contact with someone with strep throat.
    • When a person has strep throat, bacteria often spread to other family members.
    • Infectious diseases are more prone to spread in densely populated areas.
    • Group A Streptococcus infections may become more prevalent in crowded setups, such as
      • Schools
      • Day-care centers
      • Military training facilities

What causes strep throat?

Strep throat is caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus. It is often a bacterial infection superimposed on a prior viral infection. 

Risk factors of strep throat include:

  • Fatigue
  • Smoking
  • Recent strep infection in the household
  • Crowded living conditions
  • Cold and wet living conditions
  • Daycare center or school
  • Weak immune system


Sore Throat or Strep Throat? How to Tell the Difference See Slideshow

When to see a doctor for strep throat


You should also seek emergency medical attention if your child exhibits severe symptoms such as:


According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, if you have a sore throat and any of the following related symptoms, you should consult your doctor:

  • Severe throat pain that lasts more than a week
  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing
  • Joint discomfort
  • Earache
  • Rash 
  • Fever higher than 101 F (38.3 C)
  • Blood or phlegm in the saliva
  • Throat lump
  • Hoarseness that lasts longer than 2 weeks

How is strep throat diagnosed?

A few other conditions can cause similar symptoms. As a result, your healthcare provider must perform a test to diagnose strep throat and determine whether antibiotics should be prescribed.

If doctors suspect strep throat, they may order a swab test. There are two types of strep throat testing: quick strep tests and throat cultures.

  1. Swab test
    • Swabbing the throat is a quick way to determine whether group A strep is the source of the illness.
    • Antibiotics can be prescribed if the result is positive. 
    • If the test is negative but the doctor suspects strep throat, a throat culture swab can be taken. 
  2. Throat culture
    • The most accurate approach to identify strep throat is with a throat culture.
    • It takes time for a throat culture to determine whether group A strep bacteria develop from the swab. 
    • Although it takes longer, a throat culture can occasionally detect illnesses that a quick strep test missed. 
    • A throat culture should be done for children and teenagers because untreated strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever
    • A throat culture is typically not required after a negative quick strep test in adults. Adults are not at risk of rheumatic fever after strep throat.

If the rapid strep test or throat culture results are positive, it implies that your child has strep throat, caused by harmful bacteria.

How to treat strep throat


Antibiotics are used in the treatment of strep throat. An antibiotic is a medication that eliminates the bacteria responsible for the ailment. They are frequently administered as shots or consumed as pills.

Common medications used to treat strep throat include penicillin and amoxicillin. Different antibiotics are prescribed for those who are allergic to penicillin. Take the prescription exactly as directed by the doctor, and don't stop taking the medicine, even if you feel better unless directed to do so by the doctor.

If you have strep throat, you should feel better within a day or two after starting antibiotics. If you do not start feeling better after 48 hours of antibiotics, contact your doctor.


You can care for your child at home with the following tips:

  • Wash your child's hands to prevent the spread of germs.
  • When your child coughs or sneezes, teach them to cover their mouth with a tissue or their sleeve or elbow.
  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen if they develop a fever:
    • Give ibuprofen only if your child is drinking adequate fluids.
    • Do not give ibuprofen to infants younger than 6 months without first consulting a pediatrician.
    • Do not switch between acetaminophen and ibuprofen because this may result in dosage issues.
    • Never give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to a toddler or teenager with a fever.
  • Make sure that your child gets enough rest. 
  • Help your child gargle with warm salt water to relieve throat pain.
  • Keep your child home from childcare or school for at least one full day after taking antibiotics.
  • Even if symptoms have subsided, make sure your child continues to take all medications prescribed by the doctor.

How to prevent spreading strep throat

The following tips may help in preventing the transmission of a strep infection to others:

  • Use tissues to cover your nose and mouth when coughing and dispose of them properly.
  • Wash your hands after coughing and before handling food, plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, babies, and other items.
  • Use paper cups or separate cups and paper towels in bathrooms.
  • Do not share food and eating utensils with others.
  • Avoid school and work until no longer contagious.

What are the complications of strep throat?

A strep throat infection might lead to complications. This may occur if the bacteria move to other body regions.

Possible complications include:

  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (a kidney disease)
  • Abscesses (pockets of pus) around the tonsils or in the neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Rheumatic fever (a disease that can affect the heart, joints, brain, and skin)
  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Guttate psoriasis (a skin condition in which small, red, and scaly teardrop-shaped spots appear on the arms, legs, and middle of the body)
Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Strep throat: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/strep-throat

Strep Throat: All You Need to Know: https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html