Q. When my child has a sore throat, how can I tell the difference between strep throat and just a sore throat?
A. Sore throats are normally caused by a virus or by strep throat, a bacterial infection. Viruses usually resolve without treatment after a few days, while strep throat requires an antibiotic. Antibiotics also prevent problems with the heart and kidneys that can occur if strep throat goes untreated. Viruses, which cause the majority of sore throats, are typically associated with cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, congestion and cough. There can be a fever, but it usually is not as high as with strep. The throat may look red, but it can also look pink. Some viruses can even cause ulcerations in the back of the throat. Antibiotics will not help with a virus. Strep throat usually arises suddenly with high fever, very painful throats, and an overall sense of “feeling bad.” Kids with strep throat may have “beefy” red tonsils and have red spots on the back of the throat (which are called petechiae). Headache, stomachache and sand-paper-like rash on the torso are also common symptoms. If there is any suspicion of strep throat, it is important to see your doctor for a throat swab. Strep can be detected either by a rapid test, which can be performed in the office, or by a culture which needs to be sent out to a laboratory.
Dr. Chuck Tigar, Specialist in Pediatrics
1651 Gunbarrel Rd., Suite 302
Chattanooga, TN 37421