The weakening of the immune system as one grows older is quite common, as it is a part of the natural ageing process. Not only does this increase the chances of a senior falling sick but it also makes recovery more complicated. One of the most common illnesses that may affect seniors, strep throat is an infection which can lead to many complications unless dealt with properly.
Strep throat can affect the elderly at any time but is more common during the winter months. If diagnosed and treated on time, strep throat is not a complicated illness to treat. However, if undetected or left untreated, it can lead to much more serious complications like rheumatic fever, kidney problems, or infections in the sinus or tonsils. Strep throat cannot be diagnosed simply on the basis of symptoms as the same symptoms can be caused by other conditions as well. However, being aware of what causes strep throat and the symptoms to look out for can help ensure that timely help is received by the patient.
What is Strep Throat
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. The illness can affect anyone of any age and is highly contagious. The symptoms of a viral sore throat (sometimes accompanied by cold symptoms) are very similar to those of strep throat, so it is often quite difficult to differentiate between the two.
What Causes Strep Throat
Strep throat infection is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus Pyogenes, also known as Group A Streptococcus, Group A Strep, or GAS. If an older adult touches their mouth, nose, or eyes after being exposed to the bacteria or inhale air where the bacteria are present, they too may contract the infection.
How the Strep Throat Infection Spreads
Strep throat is a highly contagious illness and mostly spreads through respiratory droplets. When an infected person sneezes, coughs, or spits, droplets of their saliva enter the air, also carrying the bacteria with it. If one inhales this air or even touches a surface that is covered by these droplets and then touches their eyes, ears, or nose, they will become infected as well.
The strep throat infection can also spread through sharing personal items like utensils, cosmetics, food, drinks, etc.
Strep Throat Symptoms You Need to Look Out For
The symptoms of a viral sore throat and strep throat are quite similar, so one needs to be extra vigilant regarding the same. The intensity of strep throat symptoms may vary from person to person, but they usually appear within 2-5 days after being exposed to the bacteria. Severe throat pain is one of the most common early-stage strep throat symptoms in the elderly. Apart from the pain and swollen tonsils, strep throat causes the following symptoms:
• Sudden fever
• Pain in swallowing
• Red spots on the roof of the mouth
• Body aches
• Red tonsils with white patches or pus
• Swollen and tender lymph nodes at the front of the neck
As mentioned, many of these are also symptoms of a viral sore throat. However, early detection is key to effectively treating strep throat in elderly patients and one should not take these symptoms lightly.
While it is possible that instead of strep throat, the symptoms signify some other issue, if the symptoms of viral sore throat last longer than two days or if other symptoms can also be noticed, the patient should be taken to the doctor, who will be able to identify the root cause.
It is not possible to diagnose strep throat on symptoms alone. The doctor will begin looking for signs of strep throat through a physical examination, but the only way to confirm strep throat in the elderly is to perform diagnostic tests.
The Rapid Test
This test, as the name suggests, gives results in almost no time. If the doctor notices signs of strep throat, they collect a sample of secretion from the painful area in the throat. A cotton swab is gently rubbed across the tonsils, back of the throat, and any other sore areas. The analysis of the sample for the presence of strep bacteria takes about 10-15 minutes. In the case of a positive result, treatment can be started. However, if the result comes back negative but the doctor still suspects that the patient is suffering from strep, they may suggest a throat culture swab.
Throat Culture Swab
This test also involves collecting a sample of secretions from the back of the throat. But in this case, the sample is placed on a special plate and ample time is given for the bacteria to grow. This part of the test may take a few days. To determine the presence and type (if any) of bacteria present, several chemical tests are performed on the sample.
The throat culture swab test is much more reliable and can help a doctor identify an infection that the rapid test may have missed.
Antibiotics are the common course of treatment followed for treating strep throat in the elderly. Antibiotics are very strong medication that work very well to destroy the infection causing bacteria, relieve the soreness and other strep throat symptoms, stop the infection from spreading, and also prevent further complications from occurring.
It is very important that one finishes the course of antibiotics once started, even if the patient feels better and the early-stage strep throat symptoms are gone. If one stops the course of medication too soon, some bacteria may linger, leading to complications later. It may also result in the remaining bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotics, which means that the next case of strep throat may be even more difficult to deal with.
Antibiotics tend to work very quickly, and most patients feel better within a couple of days. However, to ensure the elderly patient’s comfort, the following steps may be taken:
• Drinking warm liquids like lemon water or tea can help with the soreness of the throat.
• Using a cool mist humidifier helps make sure dry air does not irritate the patient’s throat.
• Gargling 1-2 times a day can be very helpful in soothing pain in the throat. For gargling, one can use a saline solution (1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup of warm water).
• The patient should get plenty of rest to help boost their immune system.
• The patient’s diet should comprise of soothing and easy to swallow food.
• Keeping the mucus membranes moist with a saline nasal spray can also help.
• It is important to drink plenty of water to keep the throat lubricated, prevent dehydration, and ease swallowing.
• Avoid spicy food and acidic beverages like orange juice.
• Avoid contact with throat irritants like smoke or the fumes of cleaning products.
If an elderly loved one shows symptoms of strep throat, it is very important that they be taken to a doctor for a proper diagnosis. It is also very important to ensure that there are no hiccups when it comes to treatment. Even though strep throat is easy to treat if detected on time, it can lead to severe complications if left untreated or improperly treated.
Offering home health care for senior citizens, Emoha Elder Care is driven by a team of clinical experts. Guided by the deep domain expertise of industry leaders, Emoha Elder Care is dedicated to ensuring a healthy lifestyle and to delivering specialised care to senior citizens, all in the comfort of their own home. Providing a range of services, from access to verified nurses to emergency support, Emoha Elder Care believes in putting #EldersFirst.