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Is Your Child's Sore Throat Strep or Just a Virus?

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer
12/11/2012 12:55:02 PM

Sore throat, strep throat, tonsillitis. Confused about the difference? You're not alone. Many people use these terms the wrong way to describe any throat irritation caused by a virus or bacterial infection. But they are not all the same.

Streptococcus in blood. Photo by Sebastian Kaulitzki.

Sore throat causes and symptoms

A red, painful throat can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It may be the only symptom your child has, or your child may also have a fever, swollen glands, or nasal congestion. In children, viral infections often cause sore throats. These need no special treatment other than rest, fluids, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the pain. Ask your doctor, though, before you give any over-the-counter medications to your child. Usually, the child does not feel too sick and symptoms pass in 3 to 5 days.

Strep throat is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. It tends to cause more serious symptoms in children. Older children may complain of a very painful throat, and they may have swollen glands and a fever higher than 102 degrees F. A younger child may not be able to tell you what is wrong, but may have a fever, be very cranky, and have a thick nasal discharge.

If the tonsils are inflamed, your child may have tonsillitis. This can occur with a viral or bacterial infection. Tonsils are the fleshy pieces of tissue on both sides of the back of the throat.

When to call the doctor

If your child complains of a sore throat that lasts more than a day, call the doctor to rule out a more serious infection. Call the doctor right away if there are other symptoms, such as:

-Fever

-Rash

-Headache

-Stomachache

-Trouble swallowing

Also call the doctor if your child is not getting better or starts to get worse or has a weak immune system.

Click through to read when to seek immediate medical care.

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