How Long Does Strep Throat Last?

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Written by: Jessica Guht Reviewed by: Amy Dougherty, FNP-BC, AGAC
Jessica Guht
Categorized as Health
Jessica Guht
Categorized as Health

A severe sore throat and fever that come on suddenly are often signs of strep throat, a bacterial infection best treated with antibiotics. With how unpleasant the symptoms of strep throat are, it’s only natural to wonder how long you will have to endure them as your body heals.

Continue reading to see how long it takes strep to go away and what factors can shorten your recovery time.

Table of Contents

What Is Strep Throat?

Strep throat differs from a general sore throat because it results from a bacterial infection of group A Streptococcus, not a virus. These bacteria are very contagious and can spread from person to person when respiratory droplets from an infected person are breathed in, touched, or ingested by sharing food/drink.

Symptoms Of Strep Throat

The symptoms of strep throat can include:

  • pain when swallowing
  • sore throat that starts quickly
  • red and swollen tonsils (sometimes with streaks of pus or white patches)
  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
  • tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth

However, some people with strep throat may not have symptoms or appear sick. These individuals are generally less contagious than those who are sick with symptoms.

It’s also important to note symptoms that do not correlate with strep throat, which include:

  • runny nose
  • cough
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • hoarseness

These symptoms are typically indicative of a viral infection, so if they are present, you are likely not ill with strep throat.

How To Treat Strep Throat?

The first step in treating strep throat is determining if you have it. Doctors can accomplish this through a quick test that swabs the throat, called a rapid stress test. This test returns positive or negative depending on whether group A strep bacteria are detected.

Yet another testing option is a throat culture, which takes time to see if group A strep bacteria grow from the swab. While it takes longer, it may be able to detect infections missed by the rapid strep test. This makes it helpful in cases of children and teens since rheumatic fever can develop in this age group with an untreated strep throat infection.

Once an infection is confirmed, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics, which help to decrease symptoms, lessen how long you are sick, make you less contagious, and prevent serious complications.

The most common antibiotics used to treat strep throat include:

These antibiotics help to fight the infection, and over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help treat any lingering pain and discomfort. For sore throat pain, warm tea, gargles, and throat lozenges can help.

How Long Does Strep Throat Last?

There is a slight offset between the time in which someone is exposed to group A strep bacteria and when they become ill with strep throat. This incubation period, or time when you are infected but not ill, usually lasts 2 to 5 days.

Once the infection sets in, the duration of strep throat is generally impacted by seeking treatment.

It’s important to note that, while the numbers listed below are the average amount of time it takes to heal from strep throat, there is still some variation. This is because how long strep lasts depends on many factors, such as your age, if you have other health conditions, and how quickly you seek treatment.

How Long Does Strep Throat Last If You Take Antibiotics?

Once you take antibiotics, you will generally start to feel better in just a day or two. Despite getting rid of your symptoms, though, it is important to continue taking your antibiotic for the entire prescribed course to ensure that the bacteria are all gone.

In most cases, antibiotic treatment for strep throat lasts for ten days. Stopping your treatment early may result in a recurrent infection or more severe complications.

Antibiotics work best when they are started within 24 hours of you first experiencing symptoms. However, you will never want to start antibiotics without a formal strep diagnosis, which is why seeing your doctor as soon as you notice strep throat symptoms is crucial.

How Long Does Strep Throat Last Without Antibiotics?

If left untreated, strep throat symptoms often go away within 3 to 5 days, but it usually takes the body 7 to 10 days to completely remove the infection.

Antibiotics help to shorten how long you experience the symptoms of strep throat, and more importantly, they help prevent the risk of spreading strep throat to someone else.

When To See a Doctor?

If you suddenly develop a sore throat and suspect that it is strep throat, it is recommended to see your doctor right away. They can perform a rapid strep test to look for the group A strep bacteria. If the test returns positive, your doctor will get you started on antibiotics, and you should feel better soon.

While strep often goes away on its own, taking antibiotics can help lessen your recovery period and prevent more serious complications from occurring.

If, however, your symptoms get worse after three days (with or without antibiotics), or they do not improve at all after seven to ten days, reach out to your doctor again, as an alternative treatment may be needed.

Additionally, seek immediate medical attention if you ever have a sore throat and difficulty speaking, swallowing, or breathing.

How Can DrHouse Help You?

If you think you have strep throat, you can schedule a same-day, in-person office visit to meet with a board-certified doctor through the DrHouse app. At your appointment, your doctor can perform a rapid strep test and prescribe you antibiotics to treat your infection if it comes back positive.

Key Takeaways

Strep throat is a bacterial infection causing quick-onset sore throat and fever. While its symptoms may go away on their own within three to five days, antibiotics can shorten this recovery period to just one to two days. Not only does this result in a shorter strep throat duration, but it also reduces the risk of potential complications.

If you think you have strep throat, it is crucial to see a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you start antibiotics, the better the infection responds to them, and the sooner you will feel better.

Sources:

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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