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Strep Throat in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a throat infection caused by bacteria. It is easily spread from person to person.

What are the signs and symptoms of strep throat?

  • Sore, red, and swollen throat
  • Fever and headache
  • Upset stomach, abdominal pain, or vomiting
  • White or yellow patches or blisters in the back of the throat
  • Throat pain when he or she swallows
  • Tender, swollen lumps on the sides of the neck or jaw

How is a strep throat diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider may swab the back of your child's throat to test for bacteria. You may get the results in minutes or the swab may be sent to a lab.

How is strep throat treated?

  • Antibiotics treat a bacterial infection. Your child should feel better within 2 to 3 days after antibiotics are started. Give your child his antibiotics until they are gone, unless your child's healthcare provider says to stop them. Your child may return to school 24 hours after he starts antibiotic medicine.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Give your child throat lozenges or hard candy to suck on. Lozenges and hard candy can help decrease throat pain. Do not give lozenges or hard candy to children under 4 years.
  • Give your child plenty of liquids. Liquids will help soothe your child's throat. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid to give your child each day. Give your child warm or frozen liquids. Warm liquids include hot chocolate, sweetened tea, or soups. Frozen liquids include ice pops. Do not give your child acidic drinks such as orange juice, grapefruit juice, or lemonade. Acidic drinks can make your child's throat pain worse.
  • Have your child gargle with salt water. If your child can gargle, give him or her ¼ of a teaspoon of salt mixed with 1 cup of warm water. Tell your child to gargle for 10 to 15 seconds. Your child can repeat this up to 4 times each day.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier in your child's bedroom. A cool mist humidifier increases moisture in the air. This may decrease dryness and pain in your child's throat.

How can I help prevent the spread of strep throat?

  • Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Do not let your child share food or drinks. Replace your child's toothbrush after he has taken antibiotics for 24 hours.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's signs and symptoms continue for more than 5 to 7 days.
  • Your child is tugging at his or her ears or has ear pain.
  • Your child is drooling because he or she cannot swallow their spit.
  • Your child has blue lips or fingernails.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a rash that is itchy or swollen.
  • Your child's signs and symptoms get worse or do not get better, even after medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.