Chances are you've had a scratchy throat already this season. If not, you probably will at least once. Most of the time, a scratchy throat is due to a virus, which will go away on its own. If you have a virus, take care of yourself with rest and fluids. Don't ask your doctor for antibiotics as they will not cure a virus. More seriously, overuse of antibiotics may make them less effective or totally ineffective when you do need them.
You do need antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection instead of a virus. Failure to treat strep throat, a bacterial infection, can not only make you contagious to others, it can also lead to serious complications. Rheumatic fever, which can cause painful and inflamed joints and a rash and can even result in damage to your heart valves, is one complication. Another is kidney inflammation.
Strep throat is most common between ages 5 and 15 and it spreads easily when people are in close contact, particularly in families, school, and in child care settings. If you or your child has any of the following signs and symptoms of strep throat, call your doctor:
- A sore throat without a cold or runny nose
- Tender, swollen lymph glands in the neck
- A fever higher than 101o F
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Problems breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
Usually, a rapid antigen throat swab test will be taken, which is 70%-80% effective in identifying strep bacteria. If the rapid test does not indicate strep, your doctor will send a throat swab for culture, which may take two days for the results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, it is generally prudent to wait for the longer culture results before beginning antibiotics (usually penicillin or a derivative).
If you or your child have strep throat, and have taken antibiotics for 24 to 48 hours, but don't feel better, or develop a fever, joint pain or a rash, call your doctor. You may need to be prescribed a different medication. Keep in mind that you should always take the full course of antibiotics prescribed to you, even if you start to feel better. Stopping the medicine early gives the bacteria an opportunity to regroup and can allow serious complications to develop.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.