When Strep Throat Is Not Strep Throat: Why Only Your Primary Care Physician Can Tell

If you have experienced rapid-onset strep throat in the past, you have every reason to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician as soon as you feel a very painful sore throat beginning. However, it may surprise you that all the classic signs of strep throat may not be strep throat at all. Despite your insistence that you have strep throat, only your primary care doctor knows for sure. Here is why only your primary doctor can tell when self-diagnosed strep throat is not strep throat at all.

Your Doctor Knows about Other Illnesses That Mimic Strep

You may see giant white blotches that look like cottage cheese on your tonsils and feel like your throat is on fire, but your doctor knows there are other illnesses that can do this too. For example, tonsillitis is very good at mimicking strep, as are some viruses. Visiting your doctor with what you think is strep and coming away with a lesser diagnosis than you expected might be very unnerving to you since you expected to feel better or get medication. However, should your diagnosis be more extreme (e.g., tonsillitis), then it is good that you visited your doctor anyway.

Your Doctor Is Able to Perform Strep Tests and Lab Cultures to Verify This or That

Strep tests are quick, efficient and quite accurate. Even if your doctor suspects that your sore, swollen and white or sticky tonsils are something other than strep, they can do a quick strep test to verify or deny the presence of strep bacteria. You can request this test, as well as a follow-up lab test where your throat cultures are grown overnight in a Petri dish. If you have a strain of strep that does not show up with the quick strep test, your doctor can (and will) use the cultures in the Petri dish to make absolutely certain you do not have strep throat. He or she may test for viruses and tonsillitis bacteria as well.

Your Doctor Can Tell You How to Alleviate Symptoms

When your strep test turns out to be false, your primary care physician can give you several suggestions on how to alleviate the excruciating pain you feel in your neck and throat. Usually that involves taking some anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medication to deal with pain and reduce the swelling in your tonsils. Many doctors also recommend gargling with warm salt water or an antiseptic mouthwash. You may even receive permission to gargle with hydrogen peroxide (but use it sparingly and do not swallow).


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