Although some people use the terms tonsillitis, sore throat and strep throat interchangeably, these conditions are very different. In fact, strep throat is a type of pharyngitis that affects the pharynx, tonsils and the larynx. Understanding the differences between these diseases and the strep throat causes, symptoms and complications can give you a better idea of when to be concerned and seek medical care.
Strep throat causes
Strep throat is the most common bacterial infection, responsible for 15% of all diagnosed sore throats. Strep throat causes approximately 30% of cases of tonsillopharyngitis in children and 10% in adults. The age group 5 to 15 years old has the peak incidence. According to some reports, more than 600 million cases of strep throat occur each year worldwide. The most common cause for the infection is Group A streptococcus called GAS. This bacteria is everywhere, and 20% of people has it on their skin. About 10% of children carry it in their throats without having any symptoms. However, these carriers can pass it around by coughing, sneezing or touching other people. Children who attend daycare, daycare workers and hospital staff members are at a higher risk of getting infected. If a child sneezes in a classroom, other children inhale the droplets and become infected. After 2 to 5 days, they may begin to show signs and symptoms of strep throat.
A GAS infection has different signs and symptoms, depending on the age of the patient. Strep throat causes a wide variety of symptoms associated with the inflammation and soreness of the throat. The typical signs of this infection are swollen, tender lymph nodes, high fever, a sudden sore throat and white patches on the tonsils and throat. More non-specific symptoms include painful swallowing, a diffuse or patchy rash, red, swollen soft palate, headaches, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. However, these symptoms are common for many other sore throats. The difference between them is that strep throat does not cause cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, oral ulcers, eye redness, sneezing and coughing.
Complications related to strep throat
Left untreated, strep throat causes many complications that can be life-threatening. Before antibiotics were discovered, this infection often led to rheumatic fever. This disease causes the immune system to inflict serious damage to the heart valves, leaving a person vulnerable to heart problems later in life. Today, this is a very rare occurrence, due to the new antibiotics available. An overreacting immune system can also affect the kidneys, causing glomerulonephritis and the joints, resulting in arthritis. The bacteria can travel up the eustachian tubes that connect the middle ears to the throat and cause otitis media. If it gets into the lining of the brain, the patient can develop meningitis. Other complications include scarlet fever, PANDAS syndrome, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, peritonsillar abscess, mastoiditis and cervical lymphadenitis. Although these complications are rare, if you notice symptoms like severe abdominal pain, joint pain, earache, stiff neck, nosebleeds and sudden high fever, immediately contact your doctor.