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8 Natural At-Home Remedies for Strep Throat

Strep throat is an infection that affects the throat and tonsils. It is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus or group A strep. Symptoms may include sore throat, painful swallowing, fever, and swollen lymph nodes and tonsils. 

Because strep throat is caused by bacteria, healthcare providers will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection. It is important to take the antibiotic exactly as directed and for the entire time prescribed. The proper dosage will ensure the infection is completely cleared and helps prevent antibiotic resistance. 

The good news is that while you wait for your infection to clear, there are some natural remedies that you can try at home—in addition to taking your prescription medication—that can help soothe your sore throat. 

What Causes Strep Throat?

While most sore throats are caused by a viral infection, strep throat is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus or group A strep. Viruses (such as the common cold or flu) do not respond to antibiotics, but bacterial infections like strep throat do respond to antibiotics. Healthcare providers will prescribe an antibiotic, such as amoxicillin or penicillin, to people who test positive for strep throat. An antibiotic can help clear the infection and prevent other serious complications, such as rheumatic fever or kidney problems. 

How Is Strep Throat Spread?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strep is very contagious. It is usually spread through:

  • Respiratory droplets: Bacteria from your nose and throat are spread through droplets when you cough, sneeze, or talk—then, others pick up the germs when they breathe in the droplets, share personal items, or touch something that contains the droplets and then touch their nose or mouth. 
  • Direct contact: This can occur when others come into contact with infected sores (or fluid from the sores) on the skin.
  • Improper food handling (in rare cases) 

Then, it usually takes about two to five days to develop symptoms. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Strep Throat?

Common symptoms, which may range from mild to severe, may include the following:

  • Fever and chills
  • Sore throat (the throat may appear red with white patches)
  • Painful swallowing
  • Swollen neck glands

Other symptoms may include:

  • A general feeling of illness
  • Appetite loss
  • Abnormal taste
  • Headache 
  • Nausea 
  • A rash that appears on the neck and chest, which may spread over the body

The bacteria that causes strep throat may also cause symptoms of an ear infection or sinus infection. 

Strep Throat Diagnosis 

Two types of tests can be used to diagnose strep throat:

1. Rapid strep test: The healthcare professional will take a swab of the throat and test the sample in the office. Results will be available in 15 minutes or less. If the test is positive, the healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic. The healthcare provider may order a throat culture if the test is negative. 

2. Throat culture: This test takes longer for results because it is a test to see if group A strep bacteria grow from the swab. This test sometimes finds infections that were missed in a rapid test. A culture is important for children and teenagers because they are at risk for getting rheumatic fever from an untreated strep throat infection. 

Strep Throat Treatment 

If the test is positive, the healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic, generally taken for 10 days. Amoxicillin or penicillin are commonly prescribed for strep throat—however, other antibiotics may be used, especially if the individual is allergic to penicillin antibiotics. Symptoms may begin to improve quickly, within one or two days. However, it is always important to finish the full course of antibiotics, even if you are starting to feel better. It may take up to seven to 10 days until you are feeling back to normal. 

You may have heard that you should replace your toothbrush if you have strep—but when is the best time to do so? Healthcare professionals recommend replacing your toothbrush after two or three days, but before you finish the antibiotic. And it’s best to keep each person’s toothbrush separate from others in the family.

Home Remedies For Strep Throat

While natural or at-home remedies, like the ones listed below, may ease symptoms, the antibiotic is what eliminates the infection, ultimately making you feel better. So, you can try as many of these tips as you would like, but be sure to take your antibiotic as directed by your physician. There are no home remedies that can kill strep throat. The fastest and most effective way to cure strep throat is with an antibiotic, so it is essential to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and medical treatment. If your healthcare provider prescribes an antibiotic, you can always use a free SingleCare card to save up to 80% on the price of your medication. 

Below is a list of helpful tips you can try at home to help ease strep throat symptoms:

1. Rest

Forget about the laundry and dishes. Stay home and get plenty of rest and sleep. Research finds that sleep and the immune system are closely connected. While lack of sleep can disrupt the immune system, consistent sleep can help strengthen the immune system, which will help fight off illness. 

2. Drink Plenty Of Fluids

Drink plenty of water or other fluids—healthcare professionals recommend at least eight cups daily. This amount can help you stay hydrated and keep the throat from feeling dry. Think warm, soothing liquids like chicken soup, bone broths, or herbal tea—or, if you prefer, cooler choices such as cool drinks, popsicles, or ices. Avoid acidic drinks like orange juice or tomato juice.

3. Eat Soft, Soothing Foods

Eating soft, soothing foods can help you stay nourished while minimizing painful swallowing. Choose foods soothing to the mouth and throat, such as soups, rice, pasta, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, pudding, yogurt, and ice cream. Avoid spicy or acidic foods like salsa and hot sauce—as well as foods that are hard or crunchy.

4. Take Over-The-Counter (OTC) Pain Medications

OTC pain medications can help with sore throat relief. Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help with fever and pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Motrin (ibuprofen) can help with fever, pain, and inflammation. Children and teenagers under 19 years of age should not take aspirin. 

Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you need help determining which OTC pain medication is safe for you. If your child has strep throat, check with the pediatrician or pharmacist for appropriate medication and dosing for the child’s age and weight. If you or your child are taking a liquid form of medication, measure it with a medication-measuring device. Kitchen utensils are inaccurate for measuring medicine and should not be used for this purpose. 

5. Gargle With Salt Water

Make a saltwater gargle. Add half a teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of warm water to make a warm saltwater solution. Gargle several times a day. Gargling with salt water can help with pain and inflammation, lubricate the throat, and help eliminate germs. Note that a saltwater gargle is not a substitute for an antibiotic if your healthcare provider determines one is needed.

6. Add Honey Or Lemon

Honey has natural antibacterial properties (although it cannot substitute for an antibiotic), which can help soothe a sore throat. You can mix two tablespoons of honey into a glass of warm water or tea, drink, and repeat several times daily. Do not give honey to children under the age of 1 year old. 

Lemon can also help a sore throat, providing pain relief and boosting immunity (courtesy of vitamin C). You can mix a teaspoon of lemon juice into a cup of warm water to make lemon water and drink. 

7. Use A Cool Mist Humidifier

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), using a cool mist humidifier is better. A warm mist humidifier can cause nasal congestion and make breathing more difficult. It can also pose a burn risk. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on cleaning and maintaining the cool mist humidifier. Keeping it clean is important to prevent mold and bacteria from growing.

8. Suck On Lozenges

Sucking on lozenges or sugar-free hard candy can help soothe a sore throat. Or, you can try sucking on ice chips or ice pops. Because hard candies or lozenges can be a choking hazard, ask your pediatrician before giving these items to a younger child. Healthcare professionals generally only recommend them for children at least six years old. 

When To See A Doctor For Strep Throat Symptoms

It can be challenging to differentiate the symptoms of a viral sore throat (which would not require antibiotic treatment) from a strep infection. If you have a severe sore throat that comes on suddenly, especially when accompanied by a fever, consult your healthcare provider immediately. 

If your physician determines that you or your child has strep throat, they will prescribe an antibiotic. If you or your child does not start to feel better within two days, consult your physician. And remember that the course of antibiotics should be finished even if you start feeling better quickly.

If your sore throat is so severe that you have difficulty swallowing, speaking, or breathing, get emergency medical attention right away.