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Strep is more likely if a child has a raw throat and difficulty swallowing minus the drippiness. A cold causes a drippy nose and throat. Also, strep rarely hits a child under one year old, while a baby can get a cold or flu in the first few months of life.
You should be able to tell if your child has strep throat or a cold by observing his symptoms. If along with his sore throat he has a runny nose, a cough, hoarseness and red eyes, it’s probably a cold. But if his sore throat gets worse instead of better and he has a high fever, trouble swallowing, headache, swollen lymph nodes in his neck, nausea or a rash, he may have strep throat. Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria and requires treatment with an antibiotic, so call your doctor if think your child has it.
Usually not very common in this age group unless a close family member has it, strep throat symptoms are a fever and sore throat without cold symptoms (runny nose and cough). In this age group there may also be stomach pain, headache, vomiting, or a rash.
Strep throat with a rash is called scarlet fever. Sounds scary, but it is treated with the same antibiotics as regular strep throat. Reassure grandparents that because we now have antibiotics to treat the infection, scarlet fever is no longer as dangerous as it was years ago!
Even if you're not a doc, you can get an inkling of the difference between strep throat and a sore throat just by taking a quick peek into your child's mouth. Strep throat -- a bacterial infection caused by the streptococcus bacterium -- is typically diagnosed by a red throat with or without pus. Moms and docs also tend to note a distinctive odor -- "strep breath" -- that smells different (and worse) than when Junior has a cold. If the sore throat is present without nasal dripping, then it's most likely strep and not a cold or other infection. Your child may feel a little more lethargic, have a fever, and even stomach pain, or none of the above.
If you suspect strep, you'll want to have your child's throat swabbed and the cells cultured to ID whether the bacteria are present. This laboratory test, the gold standard, takes twenty-four hours to confirm the presence of the virus, but many docs do a preliminary rapid antibody test (or rapid test) that recognizes strep, and takes only five minutes. If the rapid test is positive, your doc will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. If it's negative, she will still order a throat culture or a DNA probe (a more specific test) to definitively rule out strep throat. The results usually come back the next day.
“About a third of school-aged children’s sore throats are caused by the ‘strep’ bacteria,” says Ryan Coller, M.D., associate director of the pediatric residency training program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. “These infections typically lack the symptoms of a common cold, so if your child suddenly has difficulty swallowing but does not have a runny nose, watery eyes and a cough, you should take him to the doctor.”
Your child may have one or more of these symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Throat may appear red
- Tonsils often have white spots or pus on them
- Fever (temperature over 100.3°F) and chills
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Stomach ache or may sometimes vomit
- Some children may also have ear pain
If your child has scarlet fever, he may also have:
- A fine, raised sandpaper-type rash on the body
- The itchy rash may last four to five days
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.