Strep throat is a contagious infection causing pain and other symptoms that affect the throat and tonsils. Even people who have undergone tonsil removal can get strep throat.

Certain signs and symptoms can indicate strep throat, and a doctor can diagnose and treat this infection. Treatment also involves managing the symptoms with home remedies and taking steps to reduce the spread of the infection.

Keep reading to learn more.

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Strep throat generally infects the structures of the throat and tonsils.

However, it is still possible to get strep throat without tonsils. Removing the tonsils may reduce the severity or frequency of future strep throat infections, but it does not remove the risk of infection completely.

Strep throat is a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils. The infection occurs due to an overgrowth of Streptococcus bacteria, from which the infection gets its common name. Specifically, bacteria called group A Streptococcus or group A strep cause these infections.

Strep throat is contagious, and a person can easily get it if they have contact with someone with the infection. The infection can spread in the droplets from a person’s breath or cough, or a person can get it by touching a surface that has the fluids from someone with the infection on it.

Sharing foods or drinks with someone with strep throat may also allow the infection to spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that it takes about 2–5 days for someone to become infected after they have exposure to the bacteria.

Some people may be more at risk for infection, including children aged 5–15 years and adults who have close contact with children, such as parents, caregivers, and teachers.

The symptoms of strep throat vary slightly, though some signs may indicate strep over other infections.

Common strep throat symptoms include:

  • a sore and painful throat without a cough
  • pain while swallowing
  • fever
  • swollen, painful glands at the front of the neck
  • a white film on the tonsils or back of the throat
  • redness in the back of the throat
  • headaches
  • small red dots on the roof of the mouth and throat

Other symptoms may also occur outside of the throat, such as nausea or a stomachache.

Serious complications are not common with strep throat, though they are still possible.

Possible complications from an untreated strep throat infection that spreads to other areas include:

While strep throat occurs due to a bacterial infection, viral infections in the throat are also possible. Some people may not have noticeable symptoms, while others might experience:

Preventing the spread of strep throat involves adopting some basic hygiene practices and taking steps to avoid contact with the bacteria.

Good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of strep throat include:

  • washing the hands regularly
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap is not available
  • covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • disposing of used tissues immediately
  • washing shared items and dishes thoroughly
  • staying home from work, school, or social gatherings until no longer sick

The body does not build immunity to strep throat, so a person who recovers from strep throat may still get another infection later on.

People who are prone to strep throat infections may benefit from undergoing the surgical removal of their tonsils (tonsillectomy).

People with recurring strep throat infections who have a tonsillectomy may notice the severity and frequency of their infections go down.

However, it is still possible to get strep throat without having tonsils.

Doctors will do a thorough physical exam to diagnose strep throat. This exam usually includes feeling the lymph nodes and pressing the tongue down to inspect the back of the throat for signs of infection.

If the doctor suspects strep throat, they will order a rapid strep test by taking a swab of the person’s throat and checking for the bacteria. The test quickly shows whether strep is causing the infection, meaning that the person can get treatment quickly.

These tests are important to help doctors correctly distinguish between a strep infection and other infections. A review article in Family Practice notes that no signs or symptoms can allow doctors to differentiate confidently between strep infections and other infections.

Tests such as a throat swab are the only way to diagnose the underlying issue correctly.

Antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin, are the standard treatment for strep throat. The antibiotics work quickly, and the CDC note that someone with strep throat should start feeling better within 48 hours of taking them.

Antibiotic treatment shortens the duration of symptoms, reduces the likelihood of transmission, and helps prevent complications.

Anyone who does not respond to antibacterial treatment within 48 hours should contact their doctor. In some cases, there may be another organism causing the infection.

Some simple home remedies may help soothe symptoms as the antibiotics clear out the infections. Drinking warm liquids may help reduce the pain in the throat. Some people may get more relief from cooling the area, in which case, they can try sucking on ice cubes or popsicles to help numb the throat.

Medicated throat lozenges may be more effective in reducing pain symptoms in some people. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), may help manage pain as well.

Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the tonsils and throat.

While some people who undergo tonsil removal may notice less frequent or less severe strep throat infections, it is still possible to get a strep throat without tonsils.

Basic hygiene practices may help reduce the spread of the infection, and the person should see a doctor for a diagnosis and antibiotic treatment.

Proper treatment clears out the bacteria and reduces the risk of serious complications.