How Long Does Strep Throat Last?

A sore throat can be a sign of a variety of illnesses, including strep throat. Strep throat is considered a mild illness, but it can be quite uncomfortable. Common symptoms include:

Other symptoms can include headache, nausea, stomachache, and vomiting. When a rash occurs with strep throat, it’s called scarlet fever.

This article will discuss the risk factors for strep throat, how it’s treated, and how long it lasts.

Mother checks child's temperature after treatment for strep throat

Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Causes

Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep). Group A strep usually lives in the nose and throat. It’s spread by talking, coughing, or sneezing. Sometimes it can even be passed from infected skin sores.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get strep throat. However, some age groups are more likely to get it than others. Children and teens ages 5 to 15 are the most commonly affected group. Parents of school-age children and adults who are often around children are at increased risk of strep throat.

Crowded settings can also increase your risk, since these settings are also more likely to have infectious illnesses spread anyway. These can include:

  • Schools
  • Day care centers
  • Military training facilities

How Long Does Strep Throat Last?

Symptoms of strep throat usually get better within a week, but this can vary.

With Antibiotics

With antibiotics, your symptoms should start to get better soon, often in a day or two. You can return to school or work once you no longer have a fever and you have been taking antibiotics for at least 12 hours.

It is important to stay on the antibiotics for all days it is prescribed (10 days for penicillin or amoxicillin) to ensure that the bacteria are killed.

Without Antibiotics

While strep throat typically goes away on its own within seven days, it can be contagious to others during that time, and it can lead to serious adverse effects for some people.

Without antibiotics, complications can occur. These can include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Skin condition called guttate psoriasis, which involves red and scaly spots on the trunk and extremities
  • Rheumatic fever: An inflammatory disease that can occur after strep throat and damage the heart
  • Abscess (walled-off pocket of infection and pus) near the tonsils
  • Scarlet fever

Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat

While strep throat usually entails a sore throat, sore throats are not always a sign of strep. A general sore throat is often accompanied by congestion, runny nose, moderate fever, and a swollen and scratchy throat/tonsils.

Strep throat often has white patches on the back of the throat (although other conditions can as well), tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth, headache, and swollen lymph nodes under the ears. Strep also typically does not have a cough, congestion, or runny nose.

How Long Is a Person Contagious?

People with strep can typically spread the infection to other people until they’ve been on antibiotics for 24 to 48 hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises staying home from school or work until you’ve been on antibiotics for at least 12 hours and you do not have a fever. Other sources may advise waiting a full 24 hours after being on antibiotics to return to school or work. You may ask about your school or work policy.

What Is the Treatment for Strep Throat?

Because bacteria (not viruses) cause strep, the treatment is antibiotics. This helps prevent more serious (although rare) complications like rheumatic fever. The usual antibiotics prescribed are either penicillin or amoxicillin. These should be taken as directed for 10 days, even after your symptoms are gone.

Relief for symptoms can include:

  • Drinking warm liquids like tea with honey
  • Drinking cold liquids or sucking on ice pops
  • Gargling several times a day with warm salt water
  • Cool-mist vaporizer/humidifiers to moisten painful/dry throat
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It’s important to see a healthcare provider as soon as you feel symptoms of strep throat to determine whether antibiotics are needed. The healthcare provider can do a rapid strep test, get the results, and then prescribe the antibiotics.

If the test is negative but the healthcare provider still thinks it’s strep, a throat culture may be taken by swabbing the throat. The results will take time to get back. This is more often done for children and teens since untreated strep in these groups can lead to rheumatic fever.

The risk of rheumatic fever is less for adults, so they usually will not have a throat culture if the rapid test is negative.

Summary

Strep throat is caused by the bacteria group A Streptococcus. While it may go away within a week or so on its own, to prevent complications and/or reinfection, antibiotics are necessary. With antibiotics, you should start feeling better soon, and after 24 hours on the medication, you are no longer contagious to anyone else.

While strep throat can be uncomfortable, there are medications to treat it and steps you can take to relieve or reduce your symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Even though you may start to feel better after a day or two on antibiotics, it’s important to take the medication for the entire length of time they are prescribed. This helps to ensure that all of the bacteria are killed. If you have any questions about your specific antibiotic course of treatment, talk with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kills strep throat fast?

    Antibiotics help kill the bacteria that cause strep throat. This medication is what stops the infection and helps to prevent reinfection. It also helps to prevent complications of strep.

  • Is seven days of amoxicillin enough for strep throat?

    No, it is not. Ten days of amoxicillin is the standard treatment for strep throat.

  • Does strep throat get worse before it gets better?

    Not necessarily. Each person may experience strep throat differently. If you are not getting better and your symptoms worsen, call your healthcare provider. There may be another infection present.




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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strep throat: all you need to know.

  2.  Infectious Diseases Society of America. IDSA updates guideline for managing group A streptococcal pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(5):338-340.

  3. Penn Medicine. Strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis).

  4. Mount Sinai. Strep throat.