Does your child have strep throat or a sore throat?

By Matt Strand, P.A.-C. Nov 28, 2016

One of the most common symptoms I see in children and adults is a sore throat. Allergies, viruses and bacteria can all cause sore throat, but the most common cause in the winter months, and the cause medical  providers try to find and treat , is GAS – Group A streptococcal pharyngitis, better known as  strep throat.

GAS is the most common cause of sore throat in school-aged children between 5 and 15 years. It is seen most frequently during the winter and early spring months but can be seen anytime. It presents with a group of symptoms providers look for to help us identify it and treat it appropriately. These symptoms include an abrupt onset fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. It most often presents without a cough. A child with strep throat can also have abdominal pain, headaches, nausea and vomiting. All of these symptoms together form the constellation we are looking for to identify this infection.

But why is it so important to find this one cause of sore throat? GAS is important to identify and treat early as it is linked to Acute Rheumatic Fever, which is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say, besides the symptoms of strep throat, and how they make our kids miserable, this is why we treat it when found.

Besides the symptoms our patients present with, how do we know if a patient has GAS?

If we suspect GAS but are not certain, we can order a throat culture. This is a swab of the back of the throat we will use to culture and grow the bacteria, confirming the diagnosis. This is the standard of care for testing, but it takes 24 hours or more. The “rapid strep” test is also a swab of the back of the throat, but it takes far less time.  This test is now used in the office to quickly tell if there is a strep infection happening in your child. There are limitations, however, and it is not always 100 percent accurate, but when done with a backup culture, these tests do a very fine job of identifying a GAS infection.

The standard treatment for GAS is a penicillin antibiotic.These have been used for decades and are still effective today.  For people who cannot take penicillin, other antibiotics can be used. Conservative treatments include drinking a lot of cool water, taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help with fever and pain, and getting plenty of rest. All of these treatments together should have your child feeling much better in just a few days.

To prevent your child from getting or spreading GAS and other infections, the best thing you can do is to teach your child how to wash his or her hands frequently and effectively. Also teach them not to share drink cups and to cover their coughs with the inside of the elbow.

Strep throat is a common infection and despite proper preventative measures, most children will get it at some point during their school years. That being said, knowing what symptoms to look for in your child and getting him or her to his medical provider, are important to his health and the prevention of any future complications.

Matt Strand PAC

Matthew Strand P.A.

Matthew Strand is a certified physician’s assistant at Sage Primary Care. Strand grew up in Casper and always wanted a career in health care. He worked as an exercise physiologist, EMT and as a paramedic before going to get his degree as a physician assistant. He and his wife have two children. His medical philosophy, as well as his philosophy in life is to follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way I would want others to treat me and my family,” he said. He enjoys spending time with his family, playing soccer and board games, camping and golfing.

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