Sometimes a sore throat is just a cold or allergies, but sometimes that dry, scratchy, painful throat is caused by strep. Strep is a bacterial infection that, if untreated, can cause other problems like ear infections and, in rare cases, trouble with other major organs. Here are some key questions to ask yourself if you believe you or your child may have strep throat.

  1. Are there cold-like symptoms? Runny nose, sneezing, and coughing can all contribute to a sore throat. Strep usually isn’t accompanied by any of these symptoms, however. 
  2. Are there white patches on the tonsils and throat? Strep infection usually produces white patches in the throat and red, swollen tonsils.
  3. Is there a fever? Colds and the flu can cause low-grade fever, but if you or your child have little symptoms other than a sore throat and a fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, the likelihood that it’s strep increases.
  4. Are the lymph nodes swollen? Lymph nodes are responsible for trapping and destroying infection. If strep is involved, it’s very likely the that lymph nodes around the throat will be quite swollen and tender.
  5. How painful is it? No sore throat is fun, but strep tends to lead to intense, persistent pain that lasts for several days or a week. You my experience difficulty swallowing as well as nausea and/or stomach pain.

If you suspect strep, it’s best to head to a doctor. He or she will perform a strep test that requires just a quick swab of the throat. Since strep is bacterial (not viral like colds), antibiotics will be prescribed.

Whether or not it’s strep, there are some steps you can take to ease the pain of a sore throat. Try gargling with salt water (one teaspoon salt in a glass of warm water), hanging out near a humidifier or in a steamy bathroom, and putting a warm compress or water bottle on the outside of the throat. Stick to foods that are easy to swallow, like soup and gelatin. Popsicles and ice cream are also great comfort foods. And make sure to stay hydrated. Avoid foods and drinks with a high citrus content as the acid can aggravate a sore throat.

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