Strep throat is more common than you may realize. Up to 3 in 10 children who have a sore throat are suffering from strep. Handling strep throat can be overlooked since it requires a thorough check and tests to identify strep from a common sore throat. Keep reading as we review what strep throat is, how to identify it, and how to handle it. 

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils. This bacteria is called group A streptococcus, which is where the term “strep” comes from. This infection tends to result in a sore scratchy throat. Symptoms begin to show within 5 days of coming into contact with the bacteria. Strep throat is very contagious and can occur frequently in kids and teens during the school year.

Identifying strep throat

Even though strep throat’s most common symptom is a sore throat, allergies, colds, and the flu can also cause sore throats. A red throat, swollen tonsils, white or yellow spots on the tonsils, and small red spots on the roof of the mouth can be an indicator of strep throat. Other symptoms associated with strep are:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Fever
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Swollen lymph node at the front of the neck

Testing for strep throat

To determine if your child has strep throat, visit your doctor so they can perform a quick test. There are 2 common tests for identifying strep throat; a rapid test and a throat culture.

A rapid test involves swabbing the throat before running a quick test. If the test is positive your doctor will be able to prescribe antibiotics. If their test is negative and the doctor still suspects that it’s strep throat, they may take a culture swab. A throat culture takes time in order to see if group A streptococcus grows. Though it does take longer, these tests can find infections a rapid test misses.

Handling strep throat

Get tested

The most important part of handling strep throat is to confirm that your child has it. Without a positive test result, a doctor cannot prescribe antibiotics. The benefits of antibiotics in treating strep throat are:

  • Decreasing the amount of time your child is sick
  • Lesser symptoms
  • Prevents the spreading of the bacteria
  • Prevents serious complications that can occur from strep throat like rheumatic fever

Give the medicine as prescribed

Since antibiotics kill bacteria, they’re incredibly helpful when treating a bacterial infection like strep throat. Follow the directions for the medication exactly as the doctor prescribed them. Your child may feel better before all their medicine is gone. However, the extended use of medication is often prescribed to ensure that all of the bacteria has gone completely. Otherwise, your child may become sick again.

Provide acetaminophen, but check with your doctor first

Acetaminophen may be provided to help with pain, aches, and fever that often accompany strep throat. However, if your child has been prescribed a medication already check with your doctor first.

Give them soothing food and drinks

Warm food and beverages like tea and chicken soup can help ease the pain by soothing the throat. Frozen options like popsicles and ice cream can also provide soothing relief to an agitated throat. Ask your child to try a warm drink or ice cube to see what helps soothe their throat.

Avoid irritating foods. 

Your child may already be showing a lack of interest in eating due to throat pain. Stay away from harsh spices like cayenne pepper and acidic things like orange juice. These options could cause great pain to an already tender throat.

Keep them home. 

Until your child has been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours and no longer has a fever, it’s best to keep them home. This way they will not be able to spread the bacteria.

Wash well. 

To avoid strep when someone in the house has it, wash well. This includes hands, dishes, utensils, and other high-touch items if your child is not in the habit of coughing or sneezing into their elbow.

To wrap up

An unfortunate aspect of strep throat is that the diagnosis is often delayed. If your child is complaining about a sore throat, take the time to check their throat to see if they’re showing signs of strep. This way you can expedite the process and get them the proper treatment. Then they can be feeling better in just a couple of days.

Sources: Nemours, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention