Are Antibiotics Necessary for Strep Throat?| Updated: Nov 30, 2018
More parents seem to be making an effort in recent years to limit antibiotic exposure for their children. This is due to concerns about how this may impact long term health or contribute to increased susceptibility to deadly superbugs such as C-Diff. Treating strep throat without meds remains a glaring exception to this trend.
It seems that whenever a doctor diagnoses a child or even an adult with strep throat, there is no question that they require an immediate round of antibiotics. Even those who typically avoid meds and follow a more holistic lifestyle seem to fall into this trap.
Strep Throat Symptoms
There is no doubt that strep throat is a serious infection. It is a bacterial infection and involves severe inflammation of the throat and tonsils. Typical signs of strep throat include:
- Sudden, severe sore throat
- Fever higher than 101°F/ 38 °C
- Pain when swallowing
- Pale colored spots on the back of a bright red throat
Some people suffering from strep throat will also get swollen lymph glands in their neck. Others experience vomiting or a red skin rash.
How Long Does Strep Throat Last?
Strep throat will only last 3 to 7 days with or without treatment. Doctors usually treat strep throat with antibiotics even though they will not make you well any faster. Strep throat contagiousness will continue for 24 hours once antibiotics are started. With no treatment, strep throat continues to be contagious until symptoms resolve.
In response to the persistent overuse of antibiotics for strep throat, the journal Canadian Family Physician states:
… symptoms caused by a bacterial sore throat [strep] fail to clear much faster when treated with antibiotics than they would if left alone.
It is certainly easier and quicker to hand out prescriptions every time than to explain and reassure. Each time we do this, however, we reinforce patients’ fears.
Do family physicians have to declare a conflict of interest in answering these questions? If we were to lower ourselves to examining the vulgar subject of money, it is certainly in our financial interest to keep many patients scared enough to rush to our offices whenever they get sore throats.
In view of the large number of antibiotics prescribed for sore throats, perhaps it is time to review whether we should be using such treatment for strep throat infections at all.
Is Strep Throat Overmedicated?
Sounds like the idea of not administering antibiotics for strep throat may not be as crazy as it first sounds. Are doctors overmedicating strep throat just like they overmedicate ear infections, colds and sinus/respiratory infections?
A round of antibiotics has the potential to cause permanent damage to the gut flora. This, in turn, has lifelong impact on overall immunity to both chronic and acute illness. Skipping those antibiotic pills altogether may prove in the long run to be the smartest approach of all.
Do You Have to Get Antibiotics for Strep Throat?
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 questioning the automatic use of antibiotics for every single case of strep is worth consideration. While some people clearly need meds, they are not necessary for everyone even if the suggestion may seem ludicrous at first.
The complications of strep throat are, after all, extremely serious. However, they are also rare especially for a healthy person with no autoimmune issues. Scarlet fever, inflammation of the kidney, or rheumatic fever which could permanently damage the heart are all remote possibilities.
I dated a guy in high school who was deaf in one ear from Scarlet 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.
My Experience with Untreated Strep Throat
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 seem to have developed an immunity to strep ever since. I’ve never had strep throat ever again in 35+ years. This is despite repeated exposures at close range. During college, I even had a roommate with strep and didn’t get sick. This despite eating pretty rotten cafeteria food and lots of sugary foods. This no doubt suppressed my immune function considerably.
Is it possible that allowing the body to fight off strep throat naturally on its own confers partial or total immunity?
I’ve often considered this possibility over the years. My personal belief is that yes, it is very much possible to develop an immunity to strep throat. 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.
Developing Strep Throat Immunity (yes, it’s possible!)
The reason is that folks who take antibiotics for strep throat seem to get it over and over and over again. Sometimes they get strep throat again within a mere days or weeks from the previous infection. 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 retired MD 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. This results in immunity getting weaker over time. I have witnessed the truth of this philosophy through observation. Those who have the tendency to over-medicate their illnesses whether it be with antibiotics or (gasp) even natural remedies can unwittingly experience a downside.
Attempting to squelch illness 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 (including frequent mugs of homemade bone broth or soups made with it) should be provided.
Now, I do think that much consideration needs to be given to the health of the individual before forgoing the meds. A child with autoimmune issues who is not eating well in the first place probably should just take the antibiotics.
On the other hand, a robust healthy child with no autoimmune illness who is consuming an excellent diet has a superb chance of handling the infection well with no intervention.
My Daughter’s Experience with Untreated Strep Throat
Recently, my preteen daughter came down with strep. She is my youngest child, and this was the first time any of my three children had ever had strep throat.
Given that she is healthy with no underlying health issues, my husband and I decided to ride it out. We treated her with natural antibiotics only.
She recovered completely within 48 hours. In fact, the white spots on her throat disappeared in less than 12 hours once we started treatments. We used garlic, raw manuka honey, and turmeric several times a day.
It will be interesting to see if she ever gets strep throat again. My bet is that she won’t. She will likely develop partial or total lifelong immunity just like I did when I recovered at age 15 from untreated strep.
UPDATE: It’s been nearly two years including a very bad flu season with no recurrence of strep for my daughter. It’s looking good for her having developed a natural immunity.
Have you recovered from strep throat with no antibiotics needed? Did you develop a strep throat immunity afterwards? Please let us know your experience in the comments section.
Canadian Family Physician, Should we treat strep throat with antibiotics?
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.