Signs and Symptoms of Strep Throat

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Symptoms of strep infection vary depending on the person's age and other factors. In infants under the age of 1 year, symptoms often include yellow or green nasal discharge, accompanied by a low-grade fever, fussiness, and a decrease in appetite.

Children between the ages of 1 and 3 years may complain of a sore throat and may have difficulty swallowing, poor appetite, crankiness, and swollen glands along the neck and jaw.

Older children, teenagers, and adults who have strep throat usually look and feel quite sick. Strep symptoms in older children and adults include the following:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever that begins suddenly
  • General malaise (overall discomfort, not feeling well)
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Severe sore throat, red throat that often has white or gray patches/spots
  • Skin rash
  • Swollen lymph glands on the neck

Strep Throat Complications

In general, strep throat is a minor illness that is easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, however, it can lead to more serious complications such as the following:

  • Ear infections (e.g., otitis media)
  • Mastoiditis (inflammation of the mastoid bone in the skull that usually occurs when an ear infection spreads)
  • Sinusitis (sinus infection)
  • Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils in the throat; may cause peritonsillar abscess, which is a serious tonsil infection)
  • Rheumatic fever (illness that can affect the heart and joints)
  • Glomerulonephritis (kidney disease caused by inflammation of structures in the kidneys called glomeruli)
  • Scarlet fever (illness that causes fever with body rash)

If a person experiences frequent episodes of tonsillitis caused by strep bacteria, or develops peritonsillar abscess, his or her physician may recommend tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils). Children who have their tonsils removed usually experience fewer throat infections, including strep throat.

However, there is some controversy regarding tonsillectomy to treat recurrent throat infections. Tonsillectomy is very safe, but it is surgery and does carry some risks (e.g., adverse reaction to anesthesia, excessive bleeding).

Not all physicians agree about when the benefits of the procedure (fewer throat infections) outweigh these risks, and according to some health care professionals, tonsillectomy may be performed more often than is necessary. The procedure is not performed as often today as in the past; however, tonsillectomy is still one of the most common surgical procedures performed in children.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015