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What Are Strep Throat Complications I Should Know About?

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Updated October 02, 2009

Question: What Are Strep Throat Complications I Should Know About?
It is sometimes difficult to differentiate strep throat from a sore throat caused by a virus. However, there are some serious strep throat complications that make it important for you to visit your doctor if you think you might have strep.

Answer:

Strep throat can cause a range of symptoms, from simple nuisances to more serious, long-term health problems. Acute (immediate) symptoms of strep throat can last anywhere from 12 hours to 5 days after you have been exposed to the Streptococcus bacteria. It is important to treat your strep throat by visiting your physician, getting a strep test, and (if necessary) taking an antibiotic to prevent longer-term complications like rheumatic fever.

Common symptoms of strep throat:

Symptoms that require immediate medical attention:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • continuous drooling
  • lips that are a blue or grey color

While you need to be aware of these symptoms, you should understand the way most long-term complications occur. When strep throat is not treated with antibiotics it can sometimes seem that your immune system has beaten the illness on its own. This means that you feel much better and start going back to work or school etc. This is the time when serious problems -- including heart problems (rheumatic fever), kidney damage, and scarlet fever -- can occur.

Rheumatic fever and kidney damage are thought to be caused by a strange phenomenon in which the strep bacteria cause your immune system to behave erratically and attack your own organs. Scarlet fever is caused by an erythrotoxin produced by the bacteria. This is why it is so important to treat the streptococcus bacteria with antibiotics until it is completely destroyed.

Determining the Difference Between Strep Throat and the Cold Virus

Figuring out which of these two is the cause of your symptoms is not always possible. However, there are some key differences. Strep throat usually involves a severe sore throat that is usually not accompanied by a runny nose, coughing, congestion and sneezing. However, the only way to know for sure if you have strep is to visit your doctor and have a rapid strep test or throat culture performed.

These kinds of strep complications often occur in children who get strep throat without the knowledge of their parents, particularly if the case of illness is mild. A parent may not know that a child is sick, or may mistake strep for a mild cold. If you notice a loss in appetite, difficulty swallowing or a fever in your child, it's important that you take him or her to the doctor.

Sources:

Intermountain Healthcare. Let’s Talk About… Strep throat. Accessed: September 7, 2009 from https://kr.ihc.com/ext/Dcmnt?ncid=520408024.

Medline Plus. Strep Throat. Accessed: September 7, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000639.htm.

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