Learning About Chronic Strep Throat
How many times out of the year does your throat feel like it is on fire? If it is more than a few times, it is possible you have chronic strep throat. Strep only accounts for a small portion of sore throats, but in some cases, strep throat comes back over and over.
What Is Chronic Strep Throat?
Every year, about 600 million people worldwide contract strep throat. Strep throat comes from bacteria, resulting in a painful sore throat that lingers or keeps coming back. The bacteria live in the throat and nose tissues, giving you the sore throat that characterizes strep. Strep is unlike regular sore throats; your run-of-the-mill sore throat comes with other symptoms like a cough or runny nose and these symptoms go away on their own in a few days without medical intervention. The point at which it is considered chronic or recurring strep throat is when you are diagnosed with strep throat more than seven times over a year.
Chronic Strep Throat Causes
Strep throat is caused by the highly contagious bacteria, group A streptococcus (GAS) which spread through airborne droplets or are picked up from common surfaces like light switches, faucets, doorknobs, etc. If you touch a contaminated surface and touch your nose, mouth, or eyes without washing your hands, you are transferring the surface bacteria to your body. Bacteria flourish whenever groups of people are in close contact, which can be minimized by avoiding groups of people, keeping your hands clean, coughing or sneezing into the elbow of your sleeve and staying away from others with strep throat.
Does It Differ From Regular Strep Throat?
Your symptoms will be the same with chronic strep throat and regular strep throat. The key difference is that chronic strep throat keeps returning. Research suggests that some suffer from chronic strep throat because there are immune system and genetic factors that combine to make a person more susceptible to recurrences. Studies indicate these components are linked to an insufficient antibody response.
Risk Factors for Chronic Strep Throat
There are various factors that make you susceptible to chronic strep throat:
- A weak immune system. Strep bacteria are tough. A weakened immune system means your body cannot fight off the bacteria, putting you at risk for recurrence.
- You, or someone you are in contact with, is a hidden carrier. Some people carry the bacteria even though they do not show symptoms; they pass along the bacteria to others without knowing it.
- The bacteria have built up antibiotic resistance. Some forms of strep throat are resistant to the prescribed antibiotics which means you cannot kill off the bacteria with these drugs alone.
- You use a contaminated toothbrush. The bacteria may make a home on a toothbrush or toothbrush holder. Anytime you are diagnosed with a contagious illness, like strep throat, you need to swap out your toothbrush for a new one.
- Your age. Younger people are more prone to strep throat. It usually occurs in children and teens, but it can affect people of all ages.
- The current season. Strep throat tends to circulate in winter and early spring but can occur any time of year.
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Chronic Strep Throat Symptoms
With chronic strep throat you will become familiar with the symptoms of strep throat. The primary symptom is a sore throat that has a painful, burning sensation when you try to swallow. This symptom will start as a scratch and become throat pain rather quickly. Additional symptoms may include:
- White patches or streaks of pus in the throat
- Swollen neck glands
- Small red spots at the back of the mouth
- Body pains or aching muscles
- Nausea or vomiting (especially in younger children)
When to Have a Strep Test
A strep throat screening test is recommended if you meet the following criteria:
- An oral temperature of at least 101F or 38.3C
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes on your neck
- White spots on your tonsils
Chronic Strep Throat Diagnosis
Doctors use two tests to see if you have strep bacteria. Since many of the symptoms can be indicative of another illness or viral infection, they may need to do further testing to diagnose chronic strep throat.
Rapid Strep Test
The doctor will swab the back of your throat and get the results in minutes. Due to the quick nature of these tests, rapid tests are not always accurate.
This test may be considered if a rapid test comes back negative, but the doctor still suspects strep. The doctor will take another sample from your throat and it goes into a culture cup to be observed over time. If strep bacteria grows, it is a positive sign of strep.
Treatment Options for Chronic Strep Throat
There are a few treatment options available. Treatments may include the following.
You may be prescribed penicillin or cephalexin to kill off the bacteria, which shortens the period of time where you are contagious and lowers the risk of spreading the infection to other parts of your body. When you are prescribed antibiotics, you need to take all of them; do not stop taking them when you start to feel better. Stopping the antibiotics early gives the bacteria the ability to develop a resistance to the medication.
There is surgery to remove the tonsils, which may reduce the frequency and severity of strep throat infections. Even after the tonsils are removed, it is still possible to get strep throat.
Home Remedies for Chronic Strep Throat
Some at-home remedies may include getting more sleep to help your body fight infection, drink plenty of water to ward off dehydration, gargle with saltwater to relieve pain and using a humidifier.
You may mistake a sore throat from a virus with strep throat, but if the painful throat keeps returning, it may be indicative of chronic strep throat. Take care of yourself and get the help you need to rid your body of the bacteria.