What Does the Beginning of Strep Throat Look Like?

Medically Reviewed on 2/22/2022
what does strep throat look like
Symptoms of strep throat appear two to five days after exposure with the most common early-stage sign being severe throat pain.

Strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis) is a bacterial infection that causes pain and inflammation in the throat. The illness can affect people of all ages and is extremely contagious.

Because the symptoms of a viral sore throat and strep throat are so similar, one must be extra cautious. The severity of strep throat symptoms varies with people, but they typically appear two to five days after exposure to the bacteria.

One of the most common early-stage strep throat symptoms in the elderly is severe throat pain. The rapid onset of strep throat is perhaps the most noticeable symptom.

Besides pain and swollen tonsils, strep throat causes the following symptoms:

  • A sore throat with no other cold symptoms: You most likely have a strep throat if you have a painful sore throat but aren't coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose more than usual.
  • A sore throat with high fever:
    • A high fever (over 101°F) with flu and cold.
    • When your body tries to fight off a streptococcus bacterial infection, it frequently results in a high fever.
    • However, the fever caused by strep throat may be mild. So, even if your fever is not very high, don't rule out strep.
    • In any case, if you have a bad sore throat and a fever, you should see a doctor. A fever with strep throat can lead to serious complications.
  • Red tonsils with white spots or pus:
    • Dark red splotches on the roof of the mouth are possible.
    • If this symptom is present, consult a doctor right away to test for strep throat.

What are other symptoms of strep throat?

Other symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Pain with swallowing
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fine red sandpaper-like rash that is most pronounced on the chest and abdomen
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes at the front of the neck

Early detection is critical to treat strep throat effectively, and these symptoms should not be ignored. The symptoms may be caused by something other than strep throat. Therefore, if the symptoms of a sore throat last longer than two days or if other symptoms are present, you should see the doctor, who can determine the cause.

Strep throat does not cause coughing, hoarseness, red eyes, or a runny nose. These symptoms indicate a viral infection.

Is scarlet fever a sign of strep throat?

Scarlet fever is a secondary condition caused by the same streptococcus bacteria that infect the throat. Scarlet fever is distinguished by a bumpy, pink rash on the skin.

Other symptoms of scarlet fever include:

  • Red, sore throat
  • Red, bumpy tongue
  • Bright red patches on the skin, especially the elbows, underarms, and groin area
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Scarlet fever is a serious illness that can lead to other serious complications if not treated promptly. It can lead to a variety of other infections, such as kidney disease, pneumonia, or arthritis.

What is streptococcal pharyngitis?

The medical term for strep throat is group A streptococcal pharyngitis. It is a bacterial infection of the tonsils and the back of the throat.

Streptococcus pyogenes, also called group A streptococcus, group A strep, or GAS, is the bacterium that causes strep throat. The bacterium spreads from person to person via respiratory droplets and saliva.

Coughing, sneezing, and sharing cups or eating utensils contribute to the spread of the infection.


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

How do doctors confirm strep throat?

To diagnose a strep throat infection, doctors typically look for strep throat symptoms. However, to confirm the diagnosis of strep throat, a doctor must perform an oral culture to test for strep bacteria.

  • The doctor will swab your tonsils and the back of your mouth with a cotton swab to collect a sample of the saliva for the test.
  • The rapid strep test will be performed on the sample. The rapid test only takes 10 to 15 minutes.
  • While the rapid test is extremely accurate and it occasionally reports negative results when strep throat is present.
  • If the results are negative, the doctor will swab the mouth again and send the sample in for a more accurate test. This second test could take up to two days to complete.

How long does strep throat last?

If treated, the ability to spread group A strep bacteria to others usually disappears about 12 hours after beginning an appropriate antibiotic. You can spread the illness for weeks if it is not treated.

Generally, symptoms of strep throat improve within 24 to 48 hours of starting treatment.

To help relieve a sore throat:

  • Try drinking warm liquids, such as lemon tea or tea with honey.
  • Gargle several times a day with warm salt water; use half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water.
  • Suck on popsicles, hard candies, or throat lozenges if your throat is too scratchy.
  • Get good rest.

How do you treat strep throat?

Strep throat is treated with antibiotics.

  • Antibiotics penicillin and amoxicillin are quite effective.
  • Complete your antibiotic regimen even after symptoms subside.

Tylenol can be taken to manage pain or fever. Fluids should always be encouraged.

Risk factors of strep throat

Strep throat can affect anyone, but it is most common in school-aged children and adolescents.

Several factors can increase the chances of contracting strep throat, such as:

  • Age: Adults can get it, but children between the ages of 5 and 15 years are more likely to get it.
  • Season: The most common times of year to get infected with strep are late fall and early spring, but you can get it at any time you come into contact with the bacteria.

Complications of strep throat

Strep should be diagnosed and treated with antibiotics immediately because the infection can spread to the following organs:

Untreated strep can affect the immune system and can cause more serious conditions, such as:

  • Kidney problems
    • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN) is an inflammatory problem of the kidneys caused by a strep infection.
    • High blood pressure, swelling in the face, hands and feet, dark reddish-brown urine, fatigue, and decreased urination frequency and amount are the symptoms.
    • PSGN may develop after a strep infection, and children younger than seven years are at the greatest risk.
    • It usually does not cause long-term kidney damage and resolves within a few weeks.
  • Rheumatic fever
    • When strep is left untreated or only partially treated, bacteria linger in the tonsils, causing a widespread and constant immune response throughout the body.
    • This can result in the body attacking its organs, such as joints (causing inflammation and arthritis) and heart valves, which are particularly vulnerable (damaging heart muscle and structures).
    • Fever, joint pain, cardiac inflammation, hard nodules under the skin, rapid, jerky movements, and, in about five percent of cases, a skin rash are symptoms.
    • Children aged 5 to 15 years are most at risk of developing rheumatic fever as a result of a strep infection.
    • Antibiotics can effectively treat rheumatic fever, but any tissue or organ damage sustained while infected may be permanent.
  • Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS)

The most effective way to avoid getting ill or spreading the disease is to wash hands frequently with soap and clean, running water.

If you are diagnosed with strep throat, you should stay at home from work, school, or childcare until you no longer have a fever and have taken an antibiotic for at least 12 hours. When you cough or sneeze, always use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/22/2022
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strep Throat: All You Need to Know. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html

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

Samaritan Health Services. Is It Strep – or Just a Plain Old Sore Throat? https://www.samhealth.org/about-samaritan/news-search/2021/03/09/how-can-you-tell-you-have-strep-throat

Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Strep Throat (Bacterial). https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/strep-throat