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African American doctor with face mask examining boy's throat

Sore Throat vs. Strep Throat

By Dr. Fredric Fink, Pediatric Specialists

Viruses, bacteria, dry air, allergens, or even drainage from a runny nose can cause a little one's throat to be sore. But, when accompanied by a fever, headache, and chills, it could be strep throat.

Strep throat is a contagious infection caused by bacteria. Symptoms can appear suddenly, without a cough or other cold symptoms. In fact, a cough and congested nose make it less likely that a person has strep throat.

If your child has signs of strep throat, see your pediatrician for diagnosis. If left untreated, a strep throat infection can lead to rheumatic fever, an illness that can cause more serious complications.

Here's how to tell if your child's sore throat prompts a visit to the pediatrician's office.

If it's a sore throat caused by a cold virus, symptoms will include:

  • Runny nose.
  • Cough.
  • Sneezing.
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes.

Symptoms your child may have strep throat include:

  • Sudden sore throat.
  • White spots on the tonsils.
  • Fever.
  • Pain when swallowing.
  • Swollen neck glands.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Headache.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • If your pediatrician suspects strep throat, a simple test can confirm the diagnosis. Strep throat spreads easily, so it's important to keep your child home if they test positive.

    Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat this bacterial infection. After your child has taken the antibiotics for 24 hours, they will no longer be contagious and may return to school – as long as they are free of fever without fever-reducing medication.

    If your child has a sore throat – strep or no strep – avoid throat sprays and cough drops and make sure they get plenty of fluids. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be used for fever and pain.

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    About CHKD Medical Group

    About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.

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