How to Deal With Strep Throat Complications and Prevention Strategies
While complications from strep throat are rare in the United States, treatment with appropriate antibiotics is important to minimize this risk.
If you have tested positive for strep then your doctor will prescribe you a course of antibiotics. (1) Start antibiotics right away to kill the Streptococcus bacteria. Especially in the absence of prompt treatment, the following complications are possible:
Peritonsillar abscess This is a collection of infected material (pus or fluid) that forms in the area around your tonsils. It’s more common in older children and adolescents with a strep infection. (2)
Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (GN) This is a form of kidney disease that can develop one to two weeks after an untreated throat infection. It happens when tiny blood vessels in the kidneys become inflamed, and is most common in children ages 6 to 10. (3)
Scarlet fever This isn’t exactly a complication of strep throat, but rather a form of strep infection that can develop at the same time as throat symptoms. It’s characterized by a fever along with a rash that first appears on the neck and chest before spreading throughout the body. This rash tends to have a rough texture, often compared to sandpaper. (4)
Rheumatic fever This is a complication that can develop 14 to 28 days after an initial throat infection. If strep throat is treated within 9 days of the onset of symptoms, the risk of rheumatic fever is extremely low, says Nipunie S. Rajapakse, MD, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Aside from causing a fever, rheumatic fever can cause nosebleeds, abdominal pain, and heart problems that may lead to shortness of breath or chest pain. It can also cause potentially painful swelling in your knees, ankles, elbows, or wrists, which sometimes leads to abnormal body movement. (5)
Dr. Rajapakse notes that rheumatic fever was once a leading cause of heart valve disease among children in the United States, but this is no longer the case.
“Thankfully now in the United States and other resource-rich countries, we don’t see rheumatic fever very often,” she adds.
PANDAS This name is short for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections. It most often refers to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or a tic disorder that first appears, or suddenly worsens, soon after a strep infection.
Symptoms of PANDAS may include tics (uncontrollable movements or vocalizations), obsessive or compulsive thoughts and behaviors, increased irritability, and anxiety attacks.
PANDAS typically appears between age 3 and puberty, and it rarely develops after age 12. (6)
Ways to Prevent Strep Throat
The best way to avoid the discomfort of strep throat, of course, is to avoid it altogether.
There are several steps you can take to help prevent a strep infection:
- Wash your hands frequently. Regular handwashing ensures that any strep bacteria you are exposed to are less likely to reach your nose or mouth.
- Dispose of used tissues promptly. This is especially true if you or your child aren’t feeling well, but it’s never a good idea to have used tissues lying around.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Strep throat is spread through contact with respiratory secretions, and covering a cough or sneeze can prevent these secretions form being sprayed into the air. It’s best to cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, since getting respiratory secretions on your hands and touching objects can also spread the bacteria.
- Avoid direct contact with anyone with strep throat. If you have more than one child and one has strep throat, it’s best to keep them mostly apart until antibiotics start to take effect.
- Don’t share cups or utensils. This is a good rule to follow in general, but it’s especially important if someone isn’t feeling well.
- Take the full 10-day course of antibiotics. This is the best way to ensure that your infection doesn’t return, potentially infecting other people in the process.
Video: Is it Strep Throat? | Auburn Medical Group
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