Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(5):online

See related article on Streptococcal pharyngitis.

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. It causes about one in 10 sore throats in adults and one in four sore throats in children. It is most common in late winter and early spring.

What are the symptoms?

You may have a high fever and a sore, red throat with white or yellow spots. You may also have swollen lymph nodes on your neck and under your jaw. If you have a cough, red eyes, and runny nose, strep throat is less likely.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you some questions to see if you're at risk for strep throat. If your doctor thinks you might have it, he or she will swab the back of your throat to test for bacteria. Results from a throat culture will be ready in two days. The rapid antigen test provides results the same day.

Do I need antibiotics?

Strep throat usually gets better by itself in about three to five days. Antibiotics can help keep you from spreading it to other people and can prevent some rare complications. If you take antibiotics, you may feel better about one day sooner than if you didn't take medicine.

Does my family need to be treated?

If someone in your home has symptoms of strep throat, he or she should be tested. Only those who test positive need to be treated.

When will I feel better?

Most people start to feel better 24 hours after taking antibiotics. Most people who do not take antibiotics feel better within three to five days. Children may return to school and adults to work 24 hours after starting antibiotics.

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if your symptoms don't start to improve within three days. If you get a rash or have trouble breathing after taking antibiotics, call your doctor right away. Sometimes a different antibiotic is needed, or you may have an infection other than strep throat that needs a different type of treatment. If you are feeling better, a follow-up visit is not usually needed.

Would having my tonsils taken out stop me from getting strep throat again?

It may help if you have repeat episodes of severe strep throat. But doctors aren't sure if having fewer infections is worth the risks of surgery.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 2009 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.