Strep Throat

Strep throat is a throat infection caused by a bacteria called group A streptococcus bacteria (group A strep) which live in the nose and throat. When they cause an infection, the throat becomes irritated, inflamed and severely sore.

Although many people assume that a sore throat means strep throat, most sore throats are not strep. Most sore throats are caused by viruses and can be just as painful as a strep throat.

  • Strep throats are usually not associated with a cough or runny nose. Doctors most commonly treat group A strep with antibiotics.
  • If you have cold symptoms such as coughing, sneezing or a runny or stuffy nose, you probably have a viral infection, not strep throat. Antibiotics do not help viral infections.

Strep throat is contagious and spreads easily from person to person through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Good hand washing is important to help prevent the spread of this illness. Strep is more common when people are crowded together indoors—especially in the winter.

Causes of Strep Throat

Strep throat is caused by group A streptococcal bacteria.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

Each individual experiences symptoms differently, and symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your otolaryngologist for a diagnosis.

Common symptoms of strep throat can include:

  • Sudden and severe sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Painful swallowing
  • Fever, usually 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius) or higher
  • Swelling of tonsils, possibly with pus or bleeding spots
  • Headache

Diagnosis of Strep Throat

Your otolaryngologist may do a rapid strep screen, a throat culture, or both. The rapid test sometimes yields "false negatives" when strep is actually there. If the test is negative but other symptoms exist, your doctor may swab the infected area to do a culture for the suspected bacteria. Culture results take 24-48 hours, but they rarely miss a case of strep.

Learn more about strep throat tests.

Read about rapid strep throat tests.

Treatment for Strep Throat

Your otolaryngologist will assess your specific condition and prescribe the appropriate course of treatment, most often antibiotics.

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have strep throat and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.

Multidisciplinary Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.

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