By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Reviewed by: Kelsey Sorvick, RN, Penfield Children’s Center

As kids return to school, they are sure to come home with their first bugs of the new school year. Strep throat, a bacterial infection, is most common in young children and teenagers and manifests itself as a scratchy and sore throat. However, it’s important to note that sore throats can occur for a variety of reasons, including allergies or viruses. In fact, strep throat is only the culprit of a small portion of sore throats each year. So, how can you tell if your child’s sore throat is caused by the bacterial infection (Group A streptococcus) strep throat? Most of the time, a sore throat accompanied by a runny nose, red eyes and a cough are caused by a virus that will eventually go away on its own. On the other hand, if your child also develops a fever, rash, red spots on the soft or hard palate of the mouth, white patches on the palate or tonsils and/or feels nauseous, these can be signs that it might be strep throat. Only a doctor can diagnose strep throat, so be sure to make an appointment for your child if he/she shows signs of these symptoms.

How does strep throat spread?
Strep throat occurs most often during the school year because children are in close contact with one another. Since strep throat is caused by a bacteria, it can be spread through a sneeze, hand shake or cough. It can also be spread by touching a surface, such as a door handle or desk that someone with the bacteria sneezed on. Because of this, proper hand washing is important and can help lessen your child’s chance of getting strep throat. It’s also important to encourage children not to share food and drinks as this can also spread the bacteria to your child.

If your child has a sore throat and also develops a fever above 101 degrees, problems swallowing or swollen lymph glands, it’s time to call the doctor. While strep throat is not serious, it can lead to further complications, such as scarlet fever, inflammation of the kidneys or the bacteria can spread to the blood, skin or middle ear.

What to expect at the doctor’s appointment:
If your child’s doctor suspects strep throat, he/she will most likely conduct a rapid antigen test by swabbing your child’s throat for a sample that can be analyzed within minutes and/or a throat culture in which the back of the throat is swabbed and the sample is sent to a lab for further testing. If your child is found to have strep throat, the doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics.

With a prescription for antibiotics, it is possible that your child will start to feel better within a day or two of the treatment. However, it’s important for him/her to take the full course of antibiotics as this can prevent the bacteria from staying in your child’s body and causing further complications. It can also reduce your child’s chance of spreading the bacteria to other people.

How to help your little one feel better fast:
Make sure to offer your child plenty of liquids (water and ginger ale are best!) and try to limit acidic drinks such as lemonade and orange juice as these can aggravate an already sore throat. In addition, warm tea can help soothe a sore throat. Also, make sure he/she gets plenty of rest and avoids close contact with friends until he/she is no longer contagious.

With a little extra care, your child will be feeling better in no time!

Has your child ever had strep throat? How have you helped soothe his/her symptoms?

References:
http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/strep-throat.html#
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/home/ovc-20165963
http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Group_A_Streptococcal_Infections/hic_strep_throat