Ear, Nose & Throat

A Parents’ Guide to Strep Throat in Children

written by Becki Andrus

Did your child pick up another bug from school or a playgroup? Even the healthiest kids get sick sometimes because we are exposed to bacteria and viruses all around us.

When a child comes home and complains that their throat is hurting, then it’s important to monitor the symptoms so you can determine whether it’s necessary to visit a doctor.

Many minor illnesses go away with at-home remedies. But certain conditions can lead to complications, which is why medical treatments are necessary. For example, strep throat is one diagnosis that can be worrisome because of the possible side effects of an untreated infection.

The good news is that modern medical treatments make it uncommon for children to experience serious health issues because of strep throat. The best thing you can do is schedule a doctor’s appointment for diagnosis and treatment.

Strep Throat: What is it?

A bacteria, known as group A streptococcus (group A strep), is the cause of strep throat infections. An estimated 20% – 30% of all sore throats happen because of this group of bacteria.

This infection affects the throat and the tonsils. Whenever a person is experiencing a sore throat, it’s wise to do a strep test to determine if this type of bacteria is the underlying cause.

Most of the time, strep throat infections are minor and clear up with at-home treatments and a round of antibiotics.

How Strep Throat Is Diagnosed

Most of the time, strep throat can’t be diagnosed with a visual exam. The most common diagnostic method is using a rapid strep test.

This test uses a cotton swab that is rubbed on the back of the throat to collect fluid samples. Then, the test is run to determine the presence of group A strep.

The benefit of running a rapid strep test is that results are available in 20 minutes. Then, your child can begin antibiotics as soon as possible if the test comes back with a positive result.

Watch for These Strep Throat Symptoms

While a sore throat is the signature symptom associated with strep throat, there are often accompanying symptoms as well. This mild infection might cause other symptoms such as:

  • Fast onset sore throat
  • Throat pain when eating or swallowing
  • Swollen, red tonsils
  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Small red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Fever
  • Lymph node swelling in the neck
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Keep in mind that viral infections can also cause similar symptoms. If your child has a sore throat with any of the following symptoms, then it probably isn’t strep throat:

  • Pink eye
  • Hoarse, raspy voice
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing

Just because it’s a viral infection doesn’t mean that there can’t be a secondary bacterial infection as well. So if you wonder whether your child has strep throat, then it might be time to visit a doctor for a rapid strep test and official diagnosis.

Potential Complications from Strep Throat

Most strep throat cases are mild or moderate, and they quickly clear up with antibiotic treatment. But, in rare situations, complications can occur because of the spread of infection.

Potential complications from untreated strep throat include:

  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Pockets of infection (abscesses) on the tonsils
  • Heart disease (rheumatic fever)
  • Kidney disease (post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis)

Antibiotics: Common Treatment for Strep Throat

Since a bacterial infection causes strep throat, antibiotics offer a fast way to clear the infection. The most common types of antibiotics used include amoxicillin or penicillin.

When your child starts taking antibiotics, they usually experience relief within a day or two. This medication can reduce the length of time the child is sick, prevent the spread of sickness to other people, and minimize severe complications from an untreated infection.

If a doctor prescribes antibiotics, it’s essential to follow the recommended dosages. Even though the symptoms decrease and go away, the child must complete the full prescription to avoid a recurring infection.

At-Home Remedies to Alleviate Strep Throat Symptoms

In addition to doctor-prescribed medications, there are things that you can do to alleviate your child’s symptoms. Home remedies include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Soft, cold foods such as popsicles and smoothies
  • Drinking broth or herbal tea
  • Get lots of rest
  • Gargling with salt water to ease throat pain

How Contagious is Strep Throat?

The truth is that strep is highly contagious. It can spread from child-to-child, and child-to-parent.

The bacteria that causes strep throat is very contagious and can pass from one person to the next. Group A step lives in the throat and nose and can be spread through sneezing or coughing that leaves respiratory droplets in the air.

Your child can get sick with strep throat through various types of exposure:

  • Being in close proximity with someone with this infection and breathing the droplets in the air
  • Touching an object contaminated with infected respiratory droplets, then touching their nose or mouth
  • Sharing food or drink with someone else who has strep

How to Prevent Strep Throat

People of all ages get sick occasionally. For example, children are prone to illnesses such as the flu and strep throat when spending time in groups at school.

Keep in mind that strep throat can recur with multiple exposures. Just because your child had strep throat in the past doesn’t mean that they have the antibodies to prevent future infections.

There are things that your family can do to prevent the spread of many types of disease, including strep throat. Follow these hygiene practices:

  • Use a tissue to cover the mouth when sneezing or coughing, then throw away the tissue.
  • Suppose a tissue isn’t available, sneeze or cough into an elbow or upper sleeve. Don’t cough into your hand.
  • Wash your hands throughout the day. Scrub with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • When water and soap aren’t available for handwashing, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Thoroughly wash utensils, glasses, and plates that a sick family member has used.
  • Avoid exposure to people who have symptoms.

If your child has strep throat, then they should stay home from school or daycare for a few days. Starting antibiotics is a way to manage the infection and prevent the spread of this infection.

The general recommendation is that people of all ages should stay home from school, daycare, or work until they:

  • Have been taking antibiotics for a minimum of 24 hours
  • Don’t have a fever

Follow your doctor’s orders to determine the right timeline for sending the child back into public settings.

Strep Throat Testing and Treatment from an ENT

If your child is sick, then you need an excellent medical team for diagnosis and treatment. Visiting an ENT is a great recommendation for any type of illness affecting the ears, nose, and throat.

Our team is here to help if you live in the Collin County or Dallas areas. At Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat, we offer general services such as strep throat testing and treatment, as well as a variety of other in-depth services for more patients with a more complicated diagnosis.

Schedule an exam and consultation with an ENT at one of our convenient offices, located in Frisco and Plano, TX. We can have an online form you can use to book an appointment or call: (972) 596-4005.

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