Strep throat: When is the right time to test?

According to CFP, the official journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, “acute sore throat accounts for about four percent of all family physician visits,” yet only a small proportion of people with sore throats seek medical care.

For family physicians, sore throats remain: 

  • The second most common acute infection
  • A disease common with young people, particularly school-age children
  • Most common in the fall and winter seasons 

But how do you tell the difference between strep throat and a cold virus?

Distinguishing between strep throat and a cold virus

While there are some overlapping symptoms, cold viruses and strep throat present somewhat differently in patients. 

Viral symptoms may include: 

  • Cough 
  • Pink eye 
  • Runny nose
  • Hoarseness or laryngitis

Strep throat symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat, with pain acute when swallowing 
  • Bright red swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus showing in the tissue 
  • ‘Strawberry’ texture to the tongue’s surface or tiny red spots toward the back of the roof of the mouth  
  • Fever
  • Swollen, tender neck glands 
  • Headache, irritability or fussiness 
  • Sleeping more than usual 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Poor appetite, nausea or vomiting, especially in younger children

How can I care for a child with strep throat?

If your child has a fever or throat pain, use over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®, Motrin®) as directed. Read the label to confirm the right dose for your child. Do not give aspirin or products that contain aspirin to children or teenagers.

Please note: 

  • Avoid ibuprofen if your child is not sufficiently hydrated. Babies under six months of age should not take ibuprofen without the advice of a family physician. 
  • Switching between acetaminophen and ibuprofen may result in dosing errors.

Be aware that your child may be less interested in eating or drinking if it hurts to swallow. Do your best to give your child lots of liquids, such as water, Pedialyte®, apple juice, or popsicles. If they are reluctant to swallow, try giving small amounts of liquid often. You can also give soft foods that are easy to swallow, such as applesauce, chicken broth, mashed potatoes, hot cereal, or eggs. 

Home remedies to comfort a sore throat include:

  • Children over 1 year: Warm fluids, such as chicken broth or apple juice
  • Children age 4 and up: Throat or cough lozenges or throat sprays. Read the label carefully to determine the right dose. Throat sprays that contain benzocaine may cause a drug reaction, so avoid those.
  • Children age 6 and up: If your child is able to gargle liquid without swallowing, mix a half teaspoon of table salt in eight ounces of warm water. Swish and gargle the mixture two to three times a day for the next few days. Have your child spit out the water instead of swallowing the mixture. 

If someone in your house has strep throat:

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids.
  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands to stop the spread of germs.
  • Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their sleeve or elbow
  • Gargle with warm salt water to help reduce swelling in the infected area. 
  • Keep your child home from child care or school until they have received an antibiotic for at least one full day.
  • Your child should take all the medication prescribed by the doctor, even if the signs of illness have gone away.

When is the right time to test? 

If your child is experiencing persistent throat pain or discomfort, it’s a good idea to rule out strep throat quickly. Since strep throat is typically treated with antibiotics, an accurate test result may spare your child discomfort.

We offer strep throat testing to affected children and their parents within the comfort of home.  

If you’re located in an Avvy-active area, use the discount code “AVVY15” to get 15% off your next appointment. 


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