More parents seem to be making an effort in recent years to limit antibiotic exposure for their children due to concerns about how this may impact long term health or contribute to increased susceptibility to deadly superbugs such as C-Diff.
Strep throat remains a glaring exception to this trend.
In most cases, it seems that whenever a child or even an adult is diagnosed with strep throat, there is absolutely no question that an immediate trip to the doctor for an antibiotic prescription is required even by those who typically eschew meds and follow a more holistic approach to illness.
There is no doubt that strep throat is a serious infection. It is bacterial in nature and involves severe inflammation of the throat and tonsils. Typical signs of strep throat include:
- Sudden, severe sore throat
- Fever higher than 101F
- Pain when swallowing
- Pale colored spots on the back of a bright red throat
Some folks with strep will also get swollen lymph glands in their neck or suffer from vomiting or a red skin rash.
Despite the seriousness of strep throat, are antibiotics really necessary in the majority of cases?
In light of the fact that every round of antibiotics potentially damages the gut in a manner than can never be 100% repaired, I think this question is worth consideration even if it may seem ludicrous at first.
The complications of strep throat are, after all, extremely serious albeit rather rare. Scarlett fever, inflammation of the kidney, or rheumatic fever which could permanently damage the heart are all possibilities.
I dated a guy in high school who was deaf in one ear from Scarlett fever (who is ironically now a MD). I am in no way kidding myself about how serious complications from strep throat can be by questioning whether antibiotics are truly needed for this type of infection.
Does Riding Out Strep Throat With No Meds Confer Immunity?
My serious doubts about the wisdom of using antibiotics for strep throat go back to my one and only experience with this infection the summer I turned 15. Strep was by far the worst sore throat I’ve ever had and the pain when I swallowed was almost unbearable to endure.
My Father, a Family Physician, made the decision not to put me on any antibiotics and let me ride it out under my own power. My Dad wasn’t into herbs or anything so I didn’t have any alternative treatments administered either.
The infection lasted over a week … my memory remembers a full two weeks but it might have been a few days shy of that.
I lost several pounds during that illness as I could only endure swallowing liquids the entire time. I pretty much subsisted on vanilla milkshakes from the ice cream shoppe down the road for the duration of that awful infection and I still got well under my own power with no complications.
The interesting thing is that I’ve never had strep throat ever again. This is despite repeated exposures to strep, even during college when I was living in an overcrowded dormitory and eating pretty rotten cafeteria food which no doubt suppressed my immune function considerably.
What’s more, my children have never gotten strep throat either even when in contact with other children who were infected.
Is it possible that allowing the body to fight off strep throat on its own confers a degree of lifelong immunity to this infection?
Even more intriguing, is it possible I could have passed this immunity on to my children?
I’ve often considered both of these suppositions over the years and my personal belief is that yes, they are both indeed possible – even highly probable. Certainly, though, my anecdotal story does not in any way provide sufficient evidence.
I can say with certainty that if and when any of my children (or myself) ever came down with strep throat, hands down I would without question skip the antibiotics.
The reason is that folks who take antibiotics for strep throat seem to get it over and over and over again. Have you noticed this vicious cycle too?
Wouldn’t it be a far better and healthier approach to fight it off one time and be done with it possibly for the rest of your life?
My Dad is of the philosophy that if you give the body a crutch every time it gets ill, it will always expect and demand that crutch and get weaker over time. I have witnessed the truth of this philosophy through observation of those who have the tendency to overmedicate their illnesses whether it be with antibiotics or (gasp) even natural remedies.
Attempting to squelch illness by taking echinacea at the first sign of a sniffle, for example, is not a wise approach in my opinion even if nontoxic.
The immune system stays strong when it is allowed to fight and defeat an illness with no interference – ideally rest and nourishment only.
Now, I do think that much consideration needs to be given to the health of the individual before forgoing the meds where strep is involved. A child with autoimmune illness who is not eating well in the first place probably should get the meds.
On the other hand, a robust healthy child with no autoimmune illness dragging down his/her ability to fight off infection has an excellent chance of handling the infection well with no intervention.
Even WebMD states that antibiotics aren’t really needed for strep after all.
“Strep throat will go away in 3 to 7 days with or without treatment. Doctors usually treat strep throat with antibiotics even though they may not make you well faster.”
Sounds like the idea of not administering antibiotics for strep throat may not be as ludicrous as it first sounds. Are doctors overmedicating strep just like they overmedicate ear infections and sinus/respiratory infections?
Given the fact that a round of antibiotics has the potential to cause some permanent damage to the gut flora which has lifelong impact on overall immunity to both chronic and acute illness, skipping those pills altogether may prove in the long run to be the smartest approach of all.
UPDATE: Since this post was written, I’ve received numerous testimonials from people who have kicked strep throat with no antibiotics based on inspiration from this article. Click here for a particularly compelling testimonial from a professional singer who kept a daily log of his strep throat adventure using only herbs to facilitate recovery. His conclusions from the experience may surprise you!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
WebMD, Strep Throat (internet archived copy to show WebMD’s original language on the subject as the site’s wording was changed to stump only for antibiotics after this post went viral).