Can you get strep throat without tonsils?
Strep throat is a contagious infection that affects the throat and tonsils, causing pain, inflammation, and other symptoms. Your doctor may recommend removing your tonsils ( a procedure called tonsillectomy) if you often get sick with a sore throat.
However, does removing your tonsils completely take off the possibility of contracting a strep throat infection? Let’s look at whether you can get strep throat even without tonsils.
Sore throats are caused by many types of viruses, bacteria, and allergies, but strep throat, most common in children aged 5 to 15, is caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria.
The infection requires immediate treatment, especially in children over three years. If left untreated, strep throat can lead to complications such as rheumatic fever, a disease that can affect the heart, joints, brain, and skin.
Group A strep lives in the nose and throat and can be passed from person to person through contact with respiratory droplets from someone who has strep throat. These droplets can spread when a person with strep throat coughs or sneezes.
It can take two to five days for strep symptoms to show after you’ve been infected.
Some infected persons do not have symptoms. People sick with strep throat spread the bacteria more easily than those without symptoms. You can get infected if:
- You come into contact with these bacteria after being exposed to them, such as when someone with strep throat coughs or sneezes, and you breathe in infected respiratory droplets.
- You share food or drink with someone who has an active strep throat infection,
- You touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after coming into contact with an object or surface infected with group A strep bacteria, such as a doorknob or faucet. Children who put objects in their mouths can acquire strep throat.
- You touch infected sores or wounds on the skin by group A strep or come into contact with fluid from infected sores (3, 4)
Strep throat symptoms
The severity of strep throat varies from person to person. The characteristic symptom of strep throat is pain that develops quickly in the throat and causes discomfort with swallowing foods and liquids.
Other signs and symptoms normally develop two to five days after strep bacteria have been introduced and these include:
- A sudden fever, especially 38˚ C or higher
- A sore, red throat
- Swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
- A headache
- A loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Nausea, sometimes with vomiting
- Bad breath
- Rash, that may develop on the neck, and chest and spread to the rest of the body (scarlet fever)
Can you get strep without tonsils?
The infection strep throat is extremely contagious. Even persons who have had their tonsils removed are susceptible to strep throat. The infection may be less severe if you don’t have tonsils. It may help reduce the number of times you get strep throat (5)
Those who are at risk of contracting strep throat
Strep throat is especially common in the late fall and early spring when children are in school. Children aged 5 to 15 are the most susceptible to streptococcal infection, and less likely in children younger than 3 years.
Adults can get strep throat as well – more common in adults who spend a lot of time with children, such as parents of school-aged children.
Strep infection is more likely in people who have a weakened immune system. This comprises the following individuals:
- Born with an issue with my immune system.
- Infected with HIV, AIDS, or cancer
- Organ transplant
- Take medication that reduces the body’s ability to resist infections (3, 6).
Is strep throat contagious for a long time?
Unfortunately, streptococcal germs spread quickly, and strep throat patients might be contagious for several days before symptoms develop. This means that someone who hasn’t been sick yet can spread the disease to others.
Once your child starts to show symptoms, he or she will be contagious until antibiotics are administered. After 24 hours of antibiotic treatment, strep throat is usually no longer contagious.
Antibiotics can help your child feel better quickly as the bugs die off, but even if your child appears to be doing well, it’s still important to continue antibiotic medication. You’ll be contagious for 2 to 3 weeks after getting infected if you don’t seek treatment.
How is strep throat diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam to determine the type of illness. If strep throat is suspected, your doctor will use a swab to obtain a sample from your throat for either a rapid strep antigen test or a throat culture.
If the rapid strep antigen test is positive, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics. However if the result is negative and your doctor still suspects strep throat, a throat culture swab in the laboratory is carried out to check for infections the rapid strep test misses.
Though the results of a throat culture may take time, usually one or two days, it is important to use in children and teens since they can develop rheumatic fever from an untreated strep throat infection. This complication is less likely in adults following a strep throat infection
Treatment for strep throat
Make an appointment with your doctor to be tested and begin treatment if you suspect you have strep throat. A course of penicillin or amoxicillin is commonly used to treat strep throat.
If you are allergic to penicillin, your doctor will prescribe appropriate alternatives such as clindamycin, azithromycin, or clarithromycin.
Antibiotics help you feel much better and decrease the duration and severity of your symptoms, but it is important to complete the full course of antibiotics even when symptoms start to improve. Antibiotics will also prevent the bacteria from spreading to others and prevent serious complications.
Most people are no longer contagious after taking antibiotics for at least 24 hours. To relieve your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) in addition to antibiotics (7).
Preventing strep throat
Follow these measures to help prevent the spread of strep throat:
- Clean your hands thoroughly and frequently. Always use warm water and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands.
- Clean all surfaces in your home if you or someone in your family has strep throat. Bacteria can survive on household goods like doorknobs and tabletops for brief periods of time.
- If you live with or care for someone who has strep throat, wash your hands frequently. Maintain a safe distance between your hands and your face, nose, and mouth.
- Contact anyone with strep throat should be avoided until they’ve been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours.
- It is not a good idea to share food, drinks, or dining utensils with others. Personal items, such as toothbrushes, should also not be shared.
- When coughing or sneezing if you have strep, keep your mouth covered. Keep a stock of disposable tissues on hand at all times. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than your hand.
- If you have strep throat, remember that you’re contagious as long as you’re having symptoms, and you should stay home from work or school. You should not leave your house until you’ve been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours (8).
Although rare, complications of strep throat may include:
- Abscesses (pockets of pus) around the tonsils or in the neck
- Bacteremia (presence of viable bacteria in the bloodstream)
- meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord)
- Sinusitis (sinus infection)
- Otitis media, an infection of the middle ear
- Rheumatic fever (an inflammatory condition that can affect the heart, joints, brain, and skin)
- Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidneys that can lead to kidney damage)
- Scarlet fever ( Group A Streptococcus (group A strep) infection. The bacteria sometimes make a poison (toxin), which causes a rash — the “scarlet” of scarlet fever
- Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome
- Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus -PANDAS (a condition that causes sudden changes in behavior, movement, and personality in children following a group A strep infection)(1, 3, 7)
The disease strep throat is extremely contagious. Small respiratory droplets enter the air when a person with strep throat sneezes or coughs, spreading the infection. If you’ve been exposed to the bacteria, you can be contagious for a few days before symptoms develop.
It causes tonsil and throat swelling, but you can get strep without tonsils. If you don’t have tonsils, the illness may be milder. It may reduce the number of times you contract strep throat.