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Sanford Health Q&A: All you need to know about strep throat

By Tamala Anderson

Who gets strep throat? Strep throat can occur at any age, but it’s most commonly seen in school-aged children and adolescents.

What symptoms might my child have? Symptoms may include a severe sore throat, painful swallowing, bad breath, fever, tender and swollen glands in the neck, headache, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Is it necessary to get medical treatment? Untreated, strep throat can lead to ear infections, sinus infections or abscesses around the tonsils or in lymph nodes in the back of the throat or neck. It can also lead to rheumatic fever, a serious condition that affects the joints and heart.

How long should I wait before calling my primary health care provider? Early treatment, within 24 to 48 hours of developing symptoms, may help your child feel better sooner and will stop the spread of the disease faster. Strep throat must be treated with an appropriate antibiotic to prevent rheumatic fever.

What will a primary health care provider do for my child? A primary health care provider will check your child’s temperature (strep throat often causes fever) and look inside your child’s throat with a light. A child with strep throat may have red, swollen tonsils, a red, bumpy tongue that looks like the outside of a strawberry and white or yellowish spots in the back of the throat. The primary health care provider will also seek confirmation of strep throat by touching the back of the throat lightly with a culture swab, which will be sent to a laboratory to get results. If the test is positive, the primary health care provider will prescribe an appropriate antibiotic.

What can we do at home? Make sure your child takes the antibiotic as directed and finishes all of it, even if he or she starts feeling better. To relieve pain and fever, try acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Have your child drink lots of liquids to soothe the throat and prevent dehydration. Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier in your child’s room.

When can my child return to school or daycare? Strep throat is contagious and is spread from person to person. Most often, children with strep throat can return to school or day care after they have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours and no longer have a fever.

Anderson, a family nurse practitioner, sees patients at Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic. She completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of North Dakota. To request an appointment, call 701-456-6144.