Strep is a serious sore throat

It’s a scene that’s repeated in countless households. A child or adolescent awakes on a school morning and complains of a scratchy, sore throat. In most of these cases, this will be a relatively mild illness, but how can parents be sure this isn’t something more serious? The first consideration is to check if the child may be experiencing a mild irritation caused by drying of the throat during sleep or if symptoms of a cold or allergies are also present. Have the child take a few sips of water. If this relieves the sore throat feeling, then you are probably dealing with no worse than a viral infection that will be relieved with a few days of rest that include drinking plenty of liquids and overthe- counter pain relievers for the sore throat pain and any mild fever.

If the child doesn’t experience any relief from the drink of water or if he or she has a headache or complains of a throat that is painful rather than just scratchy, your child may have an infection caused by the streptococcus bacteria, commonly referred to as strep throat. The symptoms of strep throat are varied. In addition to a sore throat, symptoms of strep throat can include fever, headache, abdominal pain and a rash. A strep throat infection may also cause swelling in the lymph glands that are just below the lower jaw bone.

Most sore throats will be caused by viruses, but if you suspect strep throat, contact your child’s physician right away, particularly if the sore throat is accompanied by a high fever, joint pain or a rash. To make an accurate diagnosis, the physician will need to perform a throat culture. During this test, the physician uses a cotton swab to gather some germs from the infected area of the throat. That sample is then transferred to a special plate that is sent to a laboratory for analysis. If a quicker diagnosis is needed, a rapid antigen test for strep throat can be done in the physician’s office. If the diagnosis confirms strep throat, then prescription antibiotics will be needed to treat the illness.

Antibiotics are effective against bacteria like streptococcus, but will have no effect on viral illnesses. Antibiotics – like any medication – should be used with care. Never give a child an antibiotic unless it is specifically prescribed by a physician. If you have a previously prescribed antibiotic medication in the house, do not administer it to your child before the child is tested for strep throat as that could affect the test results. Keep in mind, too, that you should never have antibiotics left over from a prvious prescription. Antibiotics are prescribed in dosages that will result in the entire prescription being taken. Even though your child will probably begin to feel better within a couple days of starting the medication, continue to administer it as directed until the prescription is gone to guard against a recurrence or complications of strep throat.

Originally published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 02/07

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