What You Should Do If You Think Your Sore Throat Could Mean Strep Throat

We've all had a painful sore throat, which can be caused by any number of viruses. But a sore throat can also mean a strep throat infection.

Everyone who has strep throat has a sore throat, but not everyone with a sore throat has a strep infection. So how can you tell the difference?

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor, visited "Good Morning America" today to answer your questions.

Your Questions Answered

Q: What is strep throat?

A: Strep throat is a bacterial infection. While adults can get it too, it is most common in children aged 5 to 15. It's important to treat strep throat. If it's left untreated, it can sometimes lead to rheumatic fever, which can in turn lead to heart disease. There has been some discussion as to whether strep throat could lead to obsessive compulsive disorder and even to Tourette's syndrome, but that was never proven in studies.

Q: What are the symptoms of strep throat and a viral sore throat?

A: Strep throat and a viral sore throat share many common symptoms. With both, you may have difficulty swallowing, your throat may be red and irritated, and you might have a fever. But with strep, you could also have sore glands in your neck, white pus on your tonsils, a headache and even an upset stomach.

With a viral sore throat, you may have a runny nose, a cough and red eyes.

Your Treatment Options

Q: What should I do if I think I have strep throat?

A: Go to the doctor. A doctor can diagnose strep throat either with a rapid swab test of the back of the throat, which returns results within minutes, or through a swab of the throat for a culture that's sent to a lab for results. The latter test will return results in about two days.

If you took a rapid test and the results were negative for strep but you still suspect you have the infection based on your symptoms, have your doctor do a throat culture. It may detect some infections that the rapid test misses.

Q: What's the best treatment for strep throat?

A: If you are diagnosed with strep throat, your doctor will give you an antibiotic such as penicillin or Amoxicillin.

As with all antibiotics, it's important that you take the entire dosage that has been prescribed -- even if you start to feel better while you still have some doses left. You should never ask for antibiotics to treat a simple sore throat. They only work on strep throat. Children with strep throat should stay home from school until they have been on antibiotics for 24 hours.

Q: What's the best way to relieve the symptoms of any sore throatt?

A: Treat a sore throat with a pain reliever to reduce the fever and pain, and ice chips, lozenges or other products to soothe your throat. You may also gargle with salt water. Popsicles also can be very soothing to the throat.

But don't give lozenges to young children due to the choking hazard.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.

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