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These days, COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are the illnesses on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But data from the
Symptoms of strep throat can include a sore throat, painful swallowing, a fever, and red and swollen tonsils. If you think you might have strep throat, an at-home test can be a helpful way of avoiding a trip to urgent care, where you might pick up even more germs.
However, it can be difficult to find a home strep test available for purchase. There aren’t many options on the market, with most inexpensive bulk packages intended for doctors’ offices to purchase. Additionally, most are still pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the throat. It’s caused by a type of bacteria called group A streptococcus (GAS).
If you see your doctor for a sore throat, they’ll likely use a rapid strep test to diagnose your condition. This involves taking a quick swab of your throat and examining it for signs of GAS. The results are ready in just a few minutes.
Doctors perform strep tests because the symptoms of strep throat can be similar to those of other conditions, including viral infections. Only bacterial infections, such as strep throat, will respond to antibiotics.
If your strep test comes back positive, you’ll likely be prescribed antibiotics. These will help clear up the infection faster. Most people notice an improvement within a day or two.
Keep in mind that untreated strep throat can lead to several complications, including scarlet fever. If you think you or your child has strep throat, it’s important to diagnose and treat it early.
Today, you can sometimes purchase home strep tests from your local pharmacy, but they’re not always the most affordable or accessible.
At-home strep tests are throat swab kits that detect whether you have strep throat. You’ll follow the instructions to collect the throat swab and complete the test. Then, you’ll wait 5-10 minutes to see the result.
These home strep tests are usually just like the test your doctor would use if you went into the office to get a strep test.
At-home strep tests aren’t always 100% accurate, but they’re generally more reliable than not. According to a 2016 review, home tests correctly identify strep throat in only 86% of people who have it. Based on these results, the test would return a negative result for 14% of those who do actually have strep throat.
User error might come into play, too. If you still want to take an at-home strep test, consider asking your doctor how to correctly collect a throat swab prior to doing so.
Most of the strep tests available for online purchase are marketed toward providers, like your doctor’s office or urgent care. Some are specifically marked as not intended for home use. Others, however, may have a higher price tag and are sold in bulk.
Additionally, there aren’t any direct-to-consumer at-home strep tests that are FDA-approved. Instead, it’s best to seek care from a pharmacist, clinic, or doctor’s office. Telehealth appointments via platforms like Sesame Care and PlushCare are also an option, but won’t offer an in-person test since you’ll meet with someone virtually.
At-home strep tests can be a convenient way to get an idea of what kind of illness you’re dealing with. While they aren’t 100% accurate, these tests are still a good way to get a quick answer without having to leave the house.
However, since the large majority of the home strep tests on the market are sold in bulk, they’re more expensive, ranging from $30 to $60 or more. The higher price point might mean that a home strep test is not worth it. And remember, you’ll likely end up going to your doctor’s office anyway for an exam (if the results are negative) or a prescription (if the results are positive).
To ensure that you get the most accurate results, check the stick that comes with your strep test for something called a control line. This should be visible on the stick, regardless of your test results. This line lets you know the test is working properly. If you don’t see a control line on your stick, discard it and try a new test.
A negative result could mean that you or your child don’t have strep throat. But it could also be a false negative, meaning you or your child actually do have strep throat.
If your results are negative, it’s still a good idea to follow up with a doctor for a throat culture or exam. Remember, strep throat can lead to other health problems if left untreated, especially in children.
If your results are positive, you may have saved yourself a trip to the doctor. This means that the test detected GAS bacteria in your sample. But you’ll still need to contact your doctor in order to get a prescription for antibiotics. Depending on your doctor, you may still have to go into the office to get this prescription.
Regardless of the results of a home strep test, it’s still best to see a doctor if you or your child have:
- a sore throat that lasts longer than 2 days
- a fever that’s higher than 101°F (38°C) or lasts longer than 2 days
- a sore throat with tender or swollen lymph nodes
- trouble breathing or swallowing
- a sore throat with an accompanying rash
- a strep throat diagnosis with no improvement after 2 days of antibiotic treatment
Can I test for strep throat at home?
Yes, you can test for strep throat at home. However, it can be difficult to find affordable strep tests that are intended for home use. And regardless of the test results, it’s still a smart idea to see a doctor when you’re sick.
Does strep throat go away by itself?
No, strep throat generally does not go away on its own. Even if your symptoms improve, you could still be contagious for several days and might be at risk for more serious complications. You’ll likely need antibiotics to help your body heal.
Will strep throat go away without antibiotics?
No. Strep throat generally needs antibiotics to knock out the bacteria that cause it. What’s more, if strep throat isn’t treated properly and promptly, it can cause more serious issues like kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever.
How reliable are home strep tests?
Rapid strep tests aren’t 100% accurate. Asking your doctor how to collect a throat swab the right way can increase your chances of getting an accurate result.
Home strep tests can be a convenient way to test for strep throat without a visit to the doctor’s office. Using a simple sample collection and testing process, results are available in minutes.
However, rapid strep tests can sometimes give a false negative result, so it’s still a good idea to follow up with a doctor if your results are negative.