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Is it Strep Throat or Just a Cold?

September 20, 2017

Is it Strep Throat or Just a ColdNo parent wants to see their child sick, but the closer we get to winter, the more frequent those illnesses will become. One very common symptom that we expect to see often at Children’s Wellness Center is a sore throat. Because parents know that one particular type of sore throat (called strep throat) can become serious, this is their first worry when their kids start complaining of a sore throat. So how do you know if your child might have strep throat? Our board-certified pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners are here to help with a few tips.

Strep throat is an illness caused by a specific type of bacteria. A sore throat is a common symptom in many types of colds and other illnesses as well as strep throat, but the difference is in the other symptoms that can accompany it. On top of a sore throat, strep throat often causes a fever, loss of appetite (the primary symptom in most cases), a stomach ache, and vomiting. Kids with strep throat can also have spots of pus on their tonsils. However, if your child has other symptoms, like a cough, a runny nose, or diarrhea, it’s likely that they don’t have strep throat but that they have another type of illness instead, like a viral cold or flu.

While guidelines like this list of symptoms can help, remember that any time your child has a persistent sore throat, you should schedule an appointment at Children’s Wellness Center. This is true regardless of whether or not you suspect strep throat, because we may be able to help kids recover from other illnesses more quickly as well. If our providers believe your child may have strep throat, they will perform a quick in-office test. It’s important to find out whether your child truly has strep throat before receiving treatment (and not to attempt to self-diagnose and treat your child), because strep throat requires antibiotics while other causes of sore throats generally should not be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, strep throat can advance into rheumatic fever, so getting your child treatment can help them heal before their symptoms worsen.

If your child is indeed diagnosed with strep throat, we will generally prescribe an antibiotic to fight the strep bacteria. Be sure to follow all of the instructions about how and when to give your child the medication. While many kids start to feel better before their antibiotics are finished, it’s very important to continue giving your child the medicine until the full prescription has been used. This ensures that all the bacteria is truly gone. In order to keep the strep from continuing to spread, you should also keep your child home from school, day care, and other activities until the fever is gone and they have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

Ultimately, the bottom line is this: when in doubt, schedule an appointment with a pediatrician or nurse practitioner at Children’s Wellness Center. Using the wrong medication can be ineffective and can also cause unintended side effects. If your child has a sustained sore throat or any other persistent symptom, our providers are here to provide them with the same expert care and warm welcome that they would give their own families.

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