- You can treat strep throat with antibiotics, which can relieve symptoms in as little as 24 hours.
- To treat strep throat effectively, you will likely need to take antibiotics for 10 days to fully resolve the bacterial infection.
- You may also want to use these home remedies to treat strep throat and relieve your symptoms.
- This article was medically reviewed by Julia Blank, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica, CA.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils that is highly contagious. It’s commonly characterised by a sore and swollen throat, a fever, and pain when swallowing.
Antibiotics are the most effective form of treatment for strep throat, and they can help relieve symptoms in as little as 24 hours. Home remedies can also help soothe a sore throat, break a fever, and reduce other strep symptoms.
Here’s what you need to know to treat strep throat and feel better as soon as possible.
How to treat strep throat
Because strep throat is caused by bacteria – and not a virus – it can be treated with prescription antibiotics. Penicillin antibiotics, like amoxicillin, are the most effective treatment for strep, says Nate Favini, MD, medical lead of Forward, a preventive primary care practice.
Antibiotics are typically prescribed for a 10-day course of treatment. Symptoms usually resolve within one to three days of starting treatment, but it’s important to finish the course of antibiotics to keep the infection from returning and to reduce the risk of the bacteria becoming resistant to the medication.
If left untreated, strep can resolve on its own in about seven days, but antibiotics help reduce symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness, and can prevent more serious complications, Favini says.
However, you should only take antibiotics if you’ve been diagnosed with strep throat by a doctor. In many cases, a sore throat can be caused by a viral infection like the cold or flu, and if you don’t actually have strep from a bacterial infection, taking antibiotics can have adverse effects on your immune system.
In addition, Favini says a sore throat due to a virus will typically get better within a few days, but strep throat can last as long as a week.
Home remedies for a sore throat
The use of antibiotics may alleviate strep throat symptoms within 24 hours. In the meantime, you can also try some of these home remedies to help soothe a sore throat and reduce other strep symptoms:
- Over-the-counter pain medications, like Tylenol or Advil, can help relieve throat pain and break a fever.
- An over-the-counter throat numbing spray that contains phenol, like Chloraseptic, can also ease throat pain.
- Drink plenty of water. Though it can be painful with strep throat, drinking water helps keep a sore throat lubricated, which may help you recover if you can tolerate it. Staying hydrated can also boost your immune system and help your organs receive adequate nutrients to fight off the infection.
- Consume warm beverages, like chamomile tea or Slippery Elm tea, can also help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the throat.
- Gargle with warm salt water can also soothe a scratchy throat. The salt helps pull mucus out of the inflamed tissue, which can relieve discomfort and reduce swelling. You can do this several times a day by mixing ¼ teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of warm water.
When to be concerned about strep throat
Strep throat symptoms typically resolve within one to three days of starting antibiotic treatment, and if you’re not getting better in that period of time, you should check in with your doctor, Favini says.
If left untreated, your immune system will likely clear the infection in about seven days, but untreated strep throat can also lead to some serious complications, like:
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Pockets of pus around your tonsils
- Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, an inflammatory kidney disease that can lead to kidney failure
- Rheumatic fever, which can affect the heart valves and cause joint damage
If you are not feeling better within three days of starting an antibiotic for strep, you should reach out to your doctor. And if you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, joint pain, develop a rash or have a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than 48 hours, seek medical attention immediately, as these can be signs of health complications due to strep throat.
Related articles from Health Reference:
- How to kill germs: Everything you need to know to protect you and your loved ones from infection
- How to tell if you have a fever without a thermometer
- 5 ways to soothe a sore throat
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