Strep Throat in Children: What Parents Need to Know

Chris Yun, MDby Chris Yun, MD
Strep Throat in Children: What Parents Need to Know

Strep Throat in Children

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as Group A Streptococcus.

Strep throat is most common in school-aged children, although the infection can occur at any stage in life, including in toddlers.

When Should You Call Your Child's Pediatrician?

You should bring your child in to be seen if they have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Irritability

  • Headache

  • Refusing to feed or eat

  • Swollen glands in the neck

  • Stomachache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Tiny red dots on the roof of the mouth

  • Red tonsils or discharge from the tonsils

Importantly, strep throat does not typically cause much cough. If your child has a sore throat along with a cough, a virus is more likely to be the culprit.

Suspicion for strep throat should be higher if there have been close contacts at home or at daycare/school that have been diagnosed with strep throat.

Testing for a Strep Throat Infection

After your doctor examines you, they may decide to perform one or two tests:

A rapid strep test involves a swab of the tonsils. It will be complete within 10 minutes.

A strep culture also involves a swab of the tonsils but is sent to a lab to see if the Strep bacteria will grow in a culture dish. It is far more accurate than the rapid strep test but takes at least 48 hours to return a result.

These swabs should be performed at the same time to reduce discomfort.

What to Do if Your Child Has Strep Throat

If your child is diagnosed with strep throat, they will need antibiotics both to treat their symptoms and also to prevent complications of strep throat such as tonsillitis or rheumatic heart disease.

You can also use Tylenol or Motrin for pain relief. Home remedies like gargling with salt water or lemon tea with honey can also help.

Your child should be able to return to school the day after starting antibiotics. They will no longer be contagious.

Antibiotic resistance is not yet a concern with Group A strep, so regular penicillin or amoxicillin is appropriate for everyone, except for those with penicillin allergies.

Strep Throat in Children - FAQ:

How long is strep throat contagious for?

A child suffering from strep throat is no longer considered contagious 12 - 24 hours after the start of antibiotics.

Should I keep my child out of school if they have strep throat?

They should stay home until 12 - 24 hours after the first dose of antibiotics and can return so long as the fever is gone and their sore throat is better. Inform the school nurse and your child's teacher about the strep situation, so they can take hygiene precautions in school and also inform the other parents to watch out for strep symptoms in their toddlers.

What are the risks if strep is untreated?

The rare but serious risk of leaving strep throat untreated is the development of acute rheumatic fever in children. Although rheumatic fever is quite rare in the USA, it is still important to minimize the risk of developing it as it can cause permanent damage to the valves in the heart.

Seeking care for strep throat for your child or need other support? Book an appointment with one of Juno’s pediatricians here.

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