Why Does Strep Throat Cause White Spots?

Why Does Strep Throat Cause White Spots?

Nearly everyone has had a sore throat at some point. In fact, sore throats are one of the most common reasons why people visit urgent care. A sore throat accompanied by white spots in your throat is often an indicator of strep throat. 

These visible signs can be alarming, but they actually provide valuable insights into the nature of the infection, including whether your sore throat is related to a common cold, a strep infection, or another illness.

In this blog, Drs. Ines Munoz De Laborde and Svetlana Burkhead answer a common question 一 why strep throat causes white spots 一 and delve into the underlying factors responsible for their appearance.

Understanding strep throat 

Strep throat is a contagious bacterial infection caused by the group A Streptococcus bacteria, specifically Streptococcus Pyogenes. This bacterium is highly prevalent and easily spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The condition primarily affects the throat and tonsils, resulting in a range of symptoms, including sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. Many people describe a sore throat from strep throat as more painful than sore throats caused by viral infections.

What causes the white spots to form?

The appearance of white spots in the throat is directly related to your body's immune response to the streptococcal infection. When the bacteria invade your throat and tonsils, your immune system quickly launches an inflammatory response to fend off the pathogens.

White blood cells, specifically neutrophils, play a crucial role in fighting bacterial infections. As they gather in the affected areas, they release enzymes and chemicals to eliminate bacteria. Neutrophils also engage in a process called phagocytosis, where they engulf and digest bacteria to neutralize the infection.

During the immune response, dead neutrophils, bacteria, cellular debris, and other immune cells accumulate in your tonsils and throat, forming a thick, yellowish substance known as pus. This pus appears as white spots or patches on the tonsils and back of the throat, making them easily visible upon examination.

The presence of white spots is an indication that your immune system is actively fighting the infection. It signifies the gathering of immune cells and the ongoing battle against the streptococcal bacteria. The appearance of white spots should prompt medical attention, as strep throat typically requires antibiotic treatment to prevent complications and further spread of the infection.

Differentiating strep throat from other conditions 

Although white spots are often associated with strep throat, it’s essential to note that they are not exclusive to this condition. Other factors, such as tonsillitis, oral thrush, or viral infections like mononucleosis, can also cause similar white patches in the throat.

To determine the exact cause, our team here at Physicians Medical Urgent Care in San Jose, California, typically conducts a physical examination, performs a throat swab, and possibly orders additional tests. This comprehensive evaluation is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Treating and preventing strep throat

Strep throat can develop in any month, although it’s more common during the winter and spring. Still, it’s important to recognize the signs, symptoms, and prevention strategies. 

When diagnosed with strep throat, you’ll likely receive antibiotics to combat the infection and prevent complications like rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation. It’s important to complete the entire course of antibiotics, even if symptoms subside before completion, to ensure the eradication of the bacteria.

Preventing the spread of strep throat involves practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with infected individuals until they have completed at least 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.

Feeling under the weather?

The presence of white spots in the throat is a hallmark symptom of strep throat, indicating an active immune response against the Streptococcus Pyogenes bacteria. These spots represent the accumulation of pus, a mixture of dead neutrophils, bacteria, and cellular debris. 

While the appearance of white spots can be unsettling, it serves as a visual cue for the need to seek medical attention and start appropriate treatment. Call us at 408-207-4637, use our online form, or simply walk right in. 

Remember, only a healthcare professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the best course of action to alleviate the symptoms and eradicate the infection completely so don’t hesitate to reach out.

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