Can strep throat cause your throat to swell shut?

Strep throat is one of the most common bacterial infections that affect the throat, tonsils or even adenoids. It is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria and can lead to symptoms such as sore throat, fever, difficulty swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes (glands under the jaw or on either side of your neck).

While strep throat is not usually a severe infection if left untreated, it can cause other complications like PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections), rheumatic fever or even kidney inflammation. But can this infection lead to something more drastic – causing your ‘throat to swell shut’?

Understanding Strep Throat

Before we delve into whether strep throat leads to medically termed “throat swelling”, let us explore what happens during a strep infection.

Streptococcus bacteria are present in our mouth and nose in small amounts without causing harm but sometimes when conditions favor them – say like when you have a weak immunity from battling another viral illness – these tiny microbes start multiplying rapidly leading to inflammation of nearby tissues especially those lining the back of our throats. During an episode of strep infection:

  • Our immune system responds by producing white blood cells which fight off foreign invaders like bacteria.

  • As white blood cells get rid of invading bacteria they also begin swelling up themselves plus increasing capillary permeability around the area – (increasing gaps between endothelial cells that line small blood vessels thus allowing passage for molecules/proteins much bigger than normally allowed).

  • These changes help bring various immune components including oxygen-rich red blood cells & healing chemicals/cytokines from surrounding parts closer while at the same time moving out harmful waste materials produced during tissue damage via lymphatic drainage towards sites where they are eliminated.

  • Blood vessels in the infected region also dilate allowing more blood flow and thereby increasing temperature/metabolism around that area which makes it easier for immune cells to move around actively & quickly (but may limit healing if excessive).

Usually, with adequate medical intervention like antibiotics, your immune system clears off these bacteria gradually. However, sometimes in severe cases or when left untreated – strep infection might trigger a chain response (e.g., autoimmune) leading to something more complicated than just sore throat.

Can Strep Throat Cause Swelling of Throat?

The short answer is yes! While not all people who have strep infections develop life-threatening symptoms like airway obstruction,(complete shutting down of airflow passage into your lungs) some can present swelling around their upper airways that can result in difficulty breathing among others that we will talk about shortly.

Airway obstruction swellings related to strep infections are thankfully rare but occur due to an allergic type reaction known as anaphylaxis notes Dr.Reed(name loosely used) our local pediatrician resident whose time away from his office provided enough boredom necessary for this editorial piece. During anaphylaxis:

  • Immune system produces large amounts of immunoglobulin E antibodies

  • These antibodies get attached onto mast cells/basophils present throughout our body especially soft tissue lining regions such as lips/tongue/mouth and under skin/mucous membranes.

  • Upon subsequent encounters with same bacterial molecules/body invading substances various chemicals especially histamine plus inflammatory cytokines are released causing striking symptoms including localized redness/warmth/swelling/itching/hives/pain but most alarmingly potential widespread dilation/constriction of blood vessels which could drop overall circulating volume/pressure even heart rate rhythm changes along with potentially compromising respiratory functions by closing up space within tubes carrying air into & out your delicate alveoli sacs where oxygen diffusion occurs within lungs in severe anaphylaxis attacks due to dramatic airway narrowing/swelling.

Other rare conditions that could lead to throat swelling include Ludwig’s angina, the presence of an abscess or scar tissue (e.g., from previous traumatic surgeries). These are indicative of a more significant underlying problem beyond strep.

When should you worry about throat swelling?

If you have sore-throat accompanied by fever, runny nose and occasionally vomiting – this is likely just flu/other viruses; however if your body temperature remains elevated for several days without improvement or strep tests confirm the infection then it’s time to speak with an expert (doctor) rather than friend who may grossly exaggerate their personal experience with such- one person sneezes when exposed to dust another turns into Godzilla when streptococcus invades his/ her pharynx.

On the other hand, If after antibiotics intake for 3-4 days, instead of feeling better (reduced high fever/alleviated pain), but symptoms now worsen i.e filling up on pus-like blisters all over mouth/throat/nose/skin, difficulty breathing and most frightening ‘hear yourself gasping’, seek medical assistance ASAP!

As Medical Doctor Margaret carefully notes ‘I would much rather tend to patients presenting mild illnesses than those whose cases we receive late’.

Prevention and treatment

Thankfully there are various measures individuals can take to reduce their risk of acquiring a strep infection as well as treat once they get infected:

What you can do:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid touching face especially mouth/nose unless absolutely necessary.
  • Cover your coughs/sneezes using tissues or elbow crook for ethereal dabbing souls.

How doctors manage Strep infections

Management involves mostly prescription medication often involving regular doses of penicillin taken daily according prescription instructions. Amoxicillin also swayed in as an appropriate effective treatment for most people who are not allergic to penicillins.

If allergic there other antibiotics with similar coverage spectrum like macrolides or doxycycline that patients could use but timing, frequency and duration of intake vary depending on individual condition.


While it can perhaps be rare in extreme cases- throat swelling caused by strep throat is real and is associated with potentially fatal complications if allowed to escalate any further. Fortunately, following proper protocols while seeking medical assistance as needed have reduced the number of severe cases encountered over the years!

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