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Strep Throat

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. These are often mild and go away in a few days. But strep throat is more serious. It's a throat infection caused by bacteria. Strep throat mainly affects children between 6 and 12 years of age, but can affect adults too. When it isn't treated, it can lead to serious problems including rheumatic fever (an inflammation of the joints and heart) and kidney damage.

Woman holding crying baby.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

Call 911 for trouble breathing or swallowing. Call the doctor about other symptoms of strep throat, such as:

  • Throat pain, especially when swallowing

  • Red, swollen tonsils

  • Swollen lymph glands

  • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old or for 3 days in a child 2 years old

  • Your child has a seizure caused by fever

  • Stomachache; sometimes, vomiting in younger children

  • Pus in the back of the throat

What to Expect in the ER

  • An examination will be done and questions asked about the patient's medical history.

  • The patient's tonsils will be examined. A sample of fluid may be taken from the back of the throat using a soft swab. The sample can be checked right away for the bacteria that cause strep throat. Another sample may also be sent to a lab for testing.

  • An antibiotic may be prescribed to kill the bacteria. The patient must take all the medication, even if he or she starts to feel better. (Note that antibiotics will not help a viral throat infection.)

  • If swallowing is very painful, painkilling medication may also be prescribed.

Easing Strep Throat Symptoms

These tips can help make a person with strep throat more comfortable:

  • Try soft, easy-to-swallow foods, such as soup, applesauce, and yogurt.

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in the bedroom.

  • Gargle with saltwater (for older children and adults only). Mix 1 tsp salt in 8 oz of warm water.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if your otherwise healthy child has finished the treatment for strep throat and has:

  • A fever

    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

    • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39°C) or higher

    • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

    • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

    • Your child has a seizure caused by fever

  • Joint pain or swelling

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rash

 

 
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