When a child’s throat feels raw, scratchy, or downright painful, you want to get him some relief. Strep throat, caused by bacteria, is one type of sore throat that can be treated. Kids get it more often, but adults can be infected, too.
It isn't handled in the same way as sore throats caused by colds and other viruses. So your doctor will likely do what’s called a “rapid strep test” to be sure it's strep.
If the test is positive (meaning you or your child has it), medication can relieve the sore throat and other symptoms.
The Power of Antibiotics
This class of drugs is able to kill the group A Streptococcus bacteria that cause strep throat. They will work only on bacteria. They have no effect on sore throats caused by viruses.
- Relieve a sore throat and other symptoms when they are caused by strep
- Help your child get better faster
- Make it less likely it will be spread to others
- Help prevent complications such as sinus and tonsil infections, and more serious things such as rheumatic fever
Doctors most often prescribe penicillin or amoxicillin (Amoxil) to treat strep throat. They are the top choices because they're safer, inexpensive, and they work well on strep bacteria.
Kids or adults who are allergic to penicillin may be able to take one of these antibiotics instead:
- Azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax, Z-Pak)
- Cephalosporins, including cefixime (Suprax), cefuroxime (Ceftin), and cephalexin (Keflex)
- Clarithromycin (Biaxin)
- Clindamycin (Cleocin)
- Erythromycin (Ery-Tab, E.E.S. 400)
Your child will take antibiotics by mouth 1 to 3 times each day. Sometimes doctors give this medicine as a shot.
Antibiotics sometimes cause side effects, such as:
Usually these side effects are mild. They should stop once your child finishes the medicine. If they are severe or persist, then call your doctor.
People sometimes have an allergy to antibiotics, though it is rare. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
Call your doctor right away if your child has these symptoms.
How Long Do I Take Them?
Most antibiotic treatments for strep throat last about 10 days. Kids usually feel better a day or two after they start them. Once they've been on these drugs for about 24 hours, they're no longer contagious and can go back to school.
Even after kids start to feel better, they should finish all their pills. You can leave some bacteria alive if you stop too soon. If strep is not fully treated, it might lead to complications such as:
- Sinus and tonsil infections
- Rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart, brain, and joints
- Kidney problems
When people stop taking antibiotics too soon, the bacteria that cause strep can become resistant to the medication. That means another case of strep would be much harder to control.
How to Manage Symptoms
Until the antibiotics start to work, these home treatments can help you or your child feel better:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to bring down a fever and ease the sore throat. Don't give aspirin to children and teens. It can cause a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
- Rest: Stay home from school or work. You need extra rest to help your body fight off the infection.
- Gargling: Rinse with a mixture of a quarter-teaspoon of salt and 8 ounces of warm water to relieve a scratchy throat.
- Lozenges and hard candy: Older kids can suck on these to feel better. Avoid giving small pieces of candy to children 4 and younger.
- Drink lots of fluids: Do this especially if you have a fever. Water and warm liquids such as soup or tea soothe the throat and keep you hydrated. If cold feels better on your throat, suck on a frozen pop or ice chips. Avoid orange juice, lemonade, and other drinks that are high in acid. These can burn your throat.
- Soft foods: Examples include yogurt, applesauce, or frozen yogurt. They're easier to swallow.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on /2, 16
American Academy of Family Physicians: "IDSA Updates Guideline for Managing Group A Streptococcal Pharyngitis," "Strep Throat."
American Association for Clinical Chemistry: "Strep Throat Test."
CDC: "Is It Strep Throat?" "Sore Throat."
Cleveland Clinic: "Group A Streptococcal Infections."
National Health Service: "Antibiotics -- Side effects."
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Is It Strep Throat?"
Nemours Foundation: "Strep Throat."
PubMed Health: "Strep Throat," "Strep Throat: Treatments."
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