Skip to main content

Search
Medical Tests

Strep Throat

|

Symptoms of strep throat, which is very common among kids and teens, include fever, stomach pain, and red, swollen tonsils.

Strep throat usually requires treatment with antibiotics. With the proper medical care — along with plenty of rest and fluids — a child should be back to school and play within a few days.

How Strep Throat Spreads

Anybody can get strep throat, but it's most common in school-age kids and teens. These infections occur most often during the school year when big groups of kids and teens are in close quarters.

The bacteria that cause strep throat (group A streptococcus) tend to hang out in the nose and throat, so normal activities like sneezing, coughing, or shaking hands can easily spread infection from one person to another.

That's why it's so important to teach kids the importance of hand washing — good hygiene can lessen their chances of getting contagious diseases like strep throat.

Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat

Not all sore throats are strep throats. Most episodes of sore throat — which can be accompanied by a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, and red eyes — are caused by viruses and usually clear up on their own without medical treatment.

A child with strep throat will start to develop other symptoms within about 3 days, such as:

  • red and white patches in the throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • tender or swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
  • red and enlarged tonsils
  • headache
  • lower stomach pain
  • fever
  • general discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling
  • loss of appetite and nausea
  • rash

strep throat illustration

Diagnosis

If your child has a sore throat and other strep throat symptoms, call your doctor. The doctor will likely do a rapid strep test in the office, using a cotton swab to take a sample of the fluids at the back of the throat. The test only takes about 5 minutes.

If it's positive, your child has strep throat. If it's negative, the doctor will send a sample to a lab for a throat culture. The results are usually available within a few days.

throat_swab_illustration

Treatment

In most cases, doctors prescribe about 10 days of antibiotic medication to treat strep throat. Within about 24 hours after starting on antibiotics, your child will probably no longer have a fever and won't be contagious. By the second or third day after taking antibiotics, the other symptoms should start to go away, too. Even when feeling better, your child should finish the antibiotics as prescribed. If he or she stops taking antibiotics too soon, bacteria can remain in the throat and symptoms can return.

Sometimes a doctor might choose to treat strep throat with one antibiotic shot, without giving any medicine by mouth.

A person whose strep throat isn't treated is most infectious when the symptoms are the most severe but could remain contagious for up to 21 days. Lack of treatment — or not finishing the prescribed course of antibiotics — also can put someone at risk for other health problems, such as rheumatic fever (which can cause permanent damage to the heart), scarlet fever, blood infections, or kidney disease.

To prevent your sick child from spreading strep throat to others in your home, keep his or her eating utensils, dishes, and drinking glasses separate from others' and wash them in hot, soapy water after each use. Also, make sure your child doesn't share food, drinks, napkins, handkerchiefs, or towels with other family members.

Make sure your child covers his or her mouth and nose during a sneeze or a cough to prevent passing infectious fluid droplets to others. Also, throw out your child's toothbrush after the antibiotic treatment has been started and he or she is no longer contagious, and make sure your child uses a new one.

Caring for Your Child

You can help your child feel better while battling strep throat. Provide plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration, such as water or ginger ale, especially if he or she has had a fever. Avoid orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade, or other acidic beverages that can irritate a sore throat. Warm liquids like soups, sweetened tea, or hot chocolate can be soothing.

As recovery progresses, talk to your doctor about when your child can return to school and other routine activities.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011

License

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

Should your child see a doctor?

Find out by selecting your child’s symptom or health condition in the list below:

Spring 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Cold Water Shock Can Quickly Cause Drowning
  • E-Cigs Are Addictive and Harmful
  • Bystanders Can Intervene to Stop Bullying

Download Spring 2014 (PDF)

Videos

Overcoming the Odds: A KING 5 TV Children's HealthLink Special 0:44:45Expand
12.30.13

In the spirit of the holidays, patients, parents and doctors share inspirational stories of healing and hope. From surviving heart failure and a near-death drowning to battling a flesh-eating disease, witness how the impossible became possible thanks to the care patients received at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Play Video
Miracle Season 2013 0:57:06Expand
12.11.13

Miracle Season, hosted by Steve Pool and Molly Shen, aired Dec. 8, 2013, on KOMO 4 TV. The annual holiday special celebrates the remarkable lives of Seattle Children's patients.

Play Video
Children’s Mental Health 0:00:30Expand
11.22.13

Mark Fadool, clinical director of mental health services at Odessa Brown Children's Clinic, provides early warning signs of mental health issues in kids and teens and urges us all to notice the signs and act early.

Play Video