Putting a Sore Throat Under the Microscope: May 7, 2014

Sarah Halbeison is an experienced mom.

“I have a boy who’s 5 and this is Zoey; she’s 3,” says Sarah.

She’s also a school nurse. Between the two, she’s seen her share of sore throats.

“Most of the time it’s pretty minor. It has to run its course and it goes on its way,” Sarah says.

Like kids themselves, sore throats come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some require close attention. The majority are viruses; painful, but harmless.

 “The viral infections that cause tonsillitis tend to come along with more symptoms. So runny nose, cough, congestion. Those things are more common in just the run-of -the-mill viruses,” Dr. Denise Drago says, a pediatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

The most serious form of sore throat is typically not seen in young kids. Strep throat is more common in children over five. And it has several symptoms that set it apart.

“Strep tends to be more along the lines of no coughing or congestion, just a really sore throat; high fever, generally above 102. They may have swollen glands,” Dr. Drago says.

Strep also has outward symptoms.

 “Sometimes I’ll look in their throat and I see, you know, white spots or it’s really beefy red or their tonsils are big. That’s when I think or suspect it might be strep,” Sarah says.

To get an accurate diagnosis, doctors use a rapid, in-office swab, following up with a lab test. Timely treatment is important. While a viral sore throat will resolve itself, strep is linked to rheumatic fever and the same bacteria can cause throat abscesses, ear infections, sinusitis, and skin infections.

“Treating strep throat with antibiotics is something we have to do to prevent some of the consequences that come along with strep throat,” Dr. Drago says.

One more reason to be wary of strep- it spreads. So 24 hours on antibiotics and no fever before your child can go back to school.