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Could it Be Strep Throat?

Katlyn Joy |26, January 2012


Could it Be Strep Throat?

Your toddler has been sneezing, has a little cough and reports his neck hurts. Or your daughter has been running a fever yet refuses to eat or drink. How do you know when it's a cold virus responsible for your child's illness or something that requires a doctor's visit, such as strep throat?

What is Strep?

Strep throat is the most common bacterial infection that invades the throat and is caused by the Group A Streptococcus bacteria. It thrives within a person's nose and mouth so sneezing, coughing and sharing of anything that goes in the mouth easily spreads the illness.

Highly contagious, strep throat will cause symptoms approximately 2 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria. It is most common to children and teens particularly during the school year when groups of kids are congregated in common spaces.


Strep throat will typically begin with a sudden onset of symptoms, such as a fever. While plenty of viruses will cause sore throat, cough, and runny nose, strep throat will additionally cause other symptoms like:

  • enlarged or tender lymph nodes especially in the neck
  • difficulty or discomfort with swallowing
  • white patches in the throat maybe with pus
  • headaches
  • tummy aches
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea possibly with vomiting
  • chills
  • foods tasting abnormal
  • generally icky feeling
  • sandpaper-type rash
  • fatigue
  • a strawberry pattern on the tongue, with red bumps on a white coated tongue

When to See the Doctor

  • Sore throat lasting more than two days
  • Fever that goes over 101 degrees in toddlers or older children
  • Symptoms that match the list above

How Strep is Diagnosed

If you suspect your child has strep throat, you'll need to go to the doctor where a rapid antigen screening test will be performed. This test involves swabbing the throat which may be a bit uncomfortable for your child and may cause gagging. However, it will not cause any real pain. Rapid results come back within minutes but are not also accurate and can miss some cases of strep.

Newer rapid tests are available that use DNA technology. These tests results can come back within the day and are as accurate as cultures.

Strep throat culture tests take a few days to grow and get the results but are highly accurate.


If your child tests positive for strep, antibiotics will be prescribed. Typically amoxicillin or penicillin is used as first line drugs. Usually the course is 10 days of antibiotics. It's imperative that the child continue to take the medicine as directed until gone, even if feeling better after a day or two.

Besides the antibiotic, you can do a few other things to help ease a child's pain and discomfort from strep throat. You can instruct them how to gargle warm salt water, give them warm tea with honey and lemon, offer hard candies or popsicles, and run a vaporizer or humidifier. Also your child's physician will probably tell you it's OK to administer pain relievers such as acetaminophen.

Possible Complications

Strep throat left untreated can result in more serious conditions or illnesses such as scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, ear infections, sinusitis, mastoiditis, blood infections or kidney disease. The more common of the side effects which can be serious is rheumatic fever which can cause permanent damage of the heart. This is another reason it is vital to take all prescribed antibiotics in order to completely kill the bacteria at work in your child's body.

Preventing Strep

Unless you put your child in a bubble, it's impossible to completely prevent infections such as strep. However, proper hand-washing and hygiene goes a long way toward limiting such illnesses. Also teach your child to not share drinks or foods or dishes.

Related Articles

Food Allergies in Toddlers & Children


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