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Why You Should Treat a Strep Throat With Antibiotics

antibiotics spilling out of a pill jar

Do You Need an Antibiotic for Strep Throat?

Half a billion people get strep throat every year. Even more, believe they have strep throat, so they self-treat with an antibiotic.

Here’s the thing. Antibiotics are a miracle in the medical community, but you have to be sure you have a bacterial infection before using antibiotics.

If you only have a sore throat, antibiotics may not be right for you.

However, if a doctor diagnoses strep throat, it is very wise to treat the strep infection with antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate several million Americans suffer from strep throat every year. They also estimate up to 1,900 Americans die every year due to complications stemming from an untreated strep infection.

So, it is important to treat your strep throat.

Most of the time, antibiotics should be administered to treat strep throat. Here is everything you should know before deciding.

woman touching throat and sipping water

Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat

Strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis, is a highly infectious disease.

A sore throat is a pain or irritation in your throat caused by any number of risk factors:

  • Allergies to pets, pollen, etc.
  • Smoking, chewing tobacco
  • Air conditioning¹
  • Toxin exposure, pollution
  • Parapharyngeal abscess (rare)²
  • Lemierre’s syndrome (rare)
  • Suppurative thyroiditis (rare)³
  • Viral infections (most common cause of sore throat):

Treating a viral infection with antibiotics is unnecessary. The overuse of these drugs has led to antibiotic resistance — a real concern of the CDC and modern medicine.⁵

But if it is strep throat (or another bacterial infection), antibiotics could be your best bet.

What are the first signs of strep throat?

These are the most common symptoms of strep throat:⁶

  • Sudden onset throat pain
  • Painful swallow
  • Sneezing, coughing
  • Fever, chills
  • Headache
  • Aching throughout your body
  • Nausea, vomiting (mainly in children with strep)
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes
  • Red spots at the back of the roof of the mouth (called petechiae)
  • Red, swollen tonsils (occasionally with white patches)⁷
strep swab and medical glove

To diagnose strep throat and make sure it is not just a sore throat, your healthcare clinician may administer a rapid strep test from a throat swab from the back of the throat (which may cause gagging). A rapid strep test should detect strep bacteria antigens in a few minutes.

If that quick test comes back negative, your doctor may still want to do a strep throat culture. A throat swab will be cultured in a lab. It may take as much as two days to detect the strep bacteria in a throat culture. It is more sensitive than a rapid strep test.

What symptoms necessitate a doctor’s visit? Swollen lymph nodes, fever, problems breathing or swallowing, or any symptom lasting longer than 48 hours should compel you to call a doctor right away.

If you are being treated with antibiotics, and your symptoms haven’t subsided after 48 hours, call a doctor.

If you experience symptoms of strep throat, see a doctor immediately. Treatment is most effective when started within 48 hours of the onset.

Causes of Strep Throat

Strep throat is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. These bacteria are highly contagious.

Strep bacteria can be spread via:

  • Coughs
  • Sneezes
  • Handshake
  • Shared food or drink
  • Doorknobs and other commonly touched surfaces⁸

Are there risk factors that increase your chance of strep throat? You are more likely to contract a strep throat infection when:

  • You are older than 2, but haven’t hit puberty
  • It is winter or early spring
  • You are in close contact with others
white pills, antibiotics and medicine bottle

When You Should Take Antibiotics

Antibiotic treatment is by far the most common and effective method of eliminating a bacterial infection, such as group A strep.

We definitely recommend antibiotic treatment if…

  • Your child has ever had PANDAS
  • Your doctor is able to confirm your child has a bacterial strep infection
  • Your child has an otherwise healthy immune system

In our practice, antibiotics aren’t always a go-to treatment. They do carry risks, including antibiotic resistance and minor side effects.⁹

However, with our experience treating children facing PANDAS, we find that it’s better to cure strep quickly to reduce the risk of children developing a much more serious condition.

What cures strep throat fast? Antibiotics target and neutralize bacteria, usually getting rid of strep bacteria within two days. Penicillin is probably the most common antibiotic.

For those who are allergic to the ‘cillins (including amoxicillin) azithromycin is an alternative your doctor may prescribe.

Are there any side effects of taking antibiotics? The most common side effect that a normal regimen of antibiotics may cause is an imbalance in good bacteria that may lead to diarrhea. You can eat foods high in probiotics (fermented foods) or take a probiotic supplement to restore your microbiome.¹⁰

Individual antibiotics may carry other side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms. Talk to your healthcare clinician if you or your child experience unexpected symptoms after starting an antibiotic, especially if you notice a rash, which may be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Avoid taking antibiotics longer than you need to, or before an actual strep throat diagnosis is reached.

One of the most serious medical conditions facing the world today is antibiotic resistance.¹¹ This happens when we use antibiotics so much that they are no longer effective against harmful bacteria. It’s rare for scientists to discover a new, effective antibiotic, so when common infectious bacteria are no longer useful, this presents a host of problems.

But antibiotics are the best solution to diagnosed strep throat. If left untreated, others may contract strep, and there are some serious complications that can arise.

When You Shouldn’t Take Antibiotics

If you have a sore throat that is not caused by a strep infection, antibiotics are not right for you. Antibiotics should be reserved for a diagnosed bacterial infection, such as strep throat.

Can strep throat run its course without antibiotics? Reportedly, strep throat can go away without antibiotics, but that does not mean it is not dangerous.

Not only can you infect others, but complications may arise from untreated strep.

In order to relieve strep throat symptoms while you treat the underlying cause, you can ease throat pain linked to strep with:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Lozenges and nasal sprays
  • Gargling salt water (dissolve ¼ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water, gargle, then spit it out)
  • Switching out the family’s toothbrushes for new clean ones
  • Plenty of rest and hydration

Consequences of Untreated Strep Throat

Strep throat is self-limiting and can resolve itself within a week if left untreated by antibiotics. But this can result in serious complications. And you could spread the strep infection to others — children are especially vulnerable.

What can happen if strep throat is left untreated? There are some serious complications of untreated strep infection. These complications are uncommon but are important for you to know when weighing the risks.

Complications include:

  • Rheumatic fever¹²
  • Abscess formation
  • Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome¹³

PANDAS (“Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus”) may develop in children with untreated strep throat. PANDAS results in sudden-onset OCD, aggressive behaviors, ADHD-like symptoms, Tourette-like symptoms, and possibly more.

Untreated PANDAS may follow children into adulthood.

If you suspect that your child might have PANDAS, you can book an appointment by clicking here. We are also happy to speak with you at (317) 989-8463, Monday-Thursday, from 8AM – 5PM Eastern time.

We are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of children with PANS and PANDAS — even helping our own daughter to overcome PANDAS a few years ago. Our office provides the best care in Indiana for PANS and PANDAS. We also see patients from across the country. The first visit must be in the office but often follow-ups may be done remotely. If you are unable to travel, you may be able to find a physician near you at the PANDAS Physician Network.

home remedies - tea, ginger, lemon, turmeric

Home Remedies for Sore Throat

Whether you have strep or just a sore throat, unwanted symptoms can bring a world of hurt. Here are some natural remedies for a painful sore throat:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication — such as NSAIDs¹⁴
  • Warm drinks, like hot tea
  • Gargling salt water (without swallowing)
  • A full night’s sleep
  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods
  • Avoid areas where people are smoking

Prevent Strep with a Fully Functional® Immune System

We often hear from patients who are overwhelmed with medical conditions, confused by doctors’ conflicting information, tired of endless prescription pharmaceuticals, and interested in optimizing and maintaining their whole-body health.

To address this, we developed the Fully Functional process. We help patients stop future diseases and disorders through focused and active prevention. Mitigating the effects of time and toxins, both of which we all have to deal with, can bring physical, mental, and spiritual healing.

We divided our Fully Functional® process into five steps:

  1. Identify the underlying causes and stressors causing your medical condition.
  2. Reduce those underlying causes and stressors, as well as any potential toxins.
  3. Optimize how your body deals with everyday life, toxin exposure, and natural biological processes, such as detoxification.
  4. Support your natural detoxification process, immune system, and mental health.
  5. Personalize a Fully Functional® plan specifically for you. Each patient is unique.

Follow these tips to become Fully Functional®. For a detailed and personalized plan, you can book an appointment by clicking here, or please call us at (317) 989-8463, Monday-Thursday, from 8AM – 5PM Eastern time.


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The Center for Fully Functional Health® is led by a team of award-winning, internationally recognized physicians, committed to providing personalized, life-changing care.

40 North Rangeline Rd. Carmel, IN 46032

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