Strep Throat-The Season that Seems Never-Ending

Female doctor taking a throat culture

When your child wakes up with a scratchy throat, it might be from sleeping with the windows open, a tickle of allergies, or even from shouting a little too loudly at their soccer game. However, if your child has a fever or feels pain when swallowing, it might be strep throat. That could warrant a visit to Alzein Pediatrics Urgent Care.

While sore throats account for 12 million doctor-visits every year, over 60% of sore throats are caused by viruses. They typically go away in a matter of days and no antibiotics would be prescribed by your Alzein Pediatrics provider.  However, in around 1 of every 3 visits, we’ll find a bacterial cause for your child’s sore throat. The Streptococcus bacteria puts the “strep” in strep throat and requires the antibiotic.

Strep throat is caused by a group A streptococcus bacteria infection in the throat. A strep infection of the skin can result in conditions like impetigo. Strep throat occurs around the year, but is more prevalent in the winter and early spring. Children ages 5 to 15 are more likely to contract it. Strep throat will get worse if left untreated and can progress into more serious infections. The bacteria can spread inside the body, and sometimes results in a rash called scarlet fever or lead to rheumatic fever, when the strep infection spreads to the joints, brain, and heart.

Because strep throat has a bacterial cause, your child cannot get vaccinated against it.  Strep bacteria is spread through direct contact and primarily, oral droplets, so wash hands frequently and sneeze and cough into a disposable tissue or the elbow.

Knowing the symptoms of strep throat and—importantly—the symptoms of a viral sore throat can help you decide whether a doctor’s visit is in order.

When your child’s sore throat is accompanied by a runny nose, coughing, or hoarseness, it likely means a viral cause is at work and antibiotics would be a poor choice.

Strep throat typically causes a fever, inflamed tonsils, and, in advanced cases, streaked or patchy tonsils and red spots or exudates in the mouth. In younger children, strep may cause headaches, nausea, and a rash. If you suspect strep based on these symptoms, seeking treatment is important for two reasons. First, the sooner you treat the infection, the sooner the throat will feel better. Second, strep infections are highly contagious and treatment limits the spread of the bacteria to others.

To diagnose strep, your Alzein Pediatrics provider will swab your child’s throat and run a rapid test or throat culture. Throat cultures take longer to process (it’s okay to wait, rest assured!) but are generally more reliable and provide more detailed information on the nature of the strep bacteria. If the test result is positive, we’ll often prescribe antibiotics. With the addition of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve the pain, your child will be feeling better in about 3 days. Make sure to change your child’s toothbrush 2-3 days after starting antibiotics and avoid sharing liquids. Your child is contagious until they have taken the antibiotics for 24 hours! Be sure to give your child the full course, every dose, of antibiotics, or their infection could come back worse, requiring more powerful antibiotics, which we don’t like to do!

If you’re unsure if your child’s sore throat is caused by a virus or by bacteria, do not hesitate to call our office at 708-424-7600 for a telehealth visit, visit our website and hit the “Book A Pediatric Appointment Now” button to schedule your appointment. We are always happy to see your child, diagnose their illness and recommend appropriate care. That’s why we’re here!

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