Thursday, November 28, 2019

Is It Cold or Strep? The Signs to Look For

Every parent knows the worrisome feeling of looking at your child and knowing that something is not quite right. They may complain that they don’t feel good and their throat is sore. You’re concerned because it could just be a cold or perhaps strep throat. There are several signs to look for that may point to strep throat, which will need medical treatment.
Colds Versus Strep: What’s the Difference

There are several things that can cause sore throats. Allergies, sinus drainage, viruses and dry air are known causes. These are inconveniences but not big areas for concern. Gastrointestinal issues such as reflux can also be the culprit. Viruses in the upper respiratory tract, such as rhinovirus, cause colds to develop.

Strep throat, however, is caused by bacteria (Streptococcus). In children, up to 30% of the sore throats are caused by this. While adults are less susceptible to strep throat, they can develop it. In both children and adults who are suspected of having strep throat, it is important to receive treatment as it can develop into more serious illnesses such as rheumatic fever, scarlet fever or poststreptococcal kidney disorder.

Also, it is possible to have both conditions at the same time. That is why it is important to get a medical diagnosis as both colds and strep are highly contagious. They can be spread through the air by a sneeze or contact with someone who is infected.

Symptoms of Colds

Children with a sore throat may have a simple cold. Fever and nasal congestion will be accompanied by a cough, sneezing and runny nose. They can also have diarrhea, aches and pains and vomiting.
Symptoms of Strep

While infants and toddlers are at a lower risk for strep throat, it can happen. Common symptoms include low-grade fever, loss of appetite, changes in behavior and thick snot. Children over the age of three will have fever, sore throat and swollen glands. You may notice that they have white spots on their tonsils. If you suspect that the sore throat is caused by strep, seek medical treatment.


A medical professional will be able to determine if the sore throat is caused by a cold (viral) or strep throat (bacterial). They consider the presence of a cough, high fever, swollen glands and white spots on the tonsils. If they suspect that it may be strep throat, they will do a simple throat swab and test it for the presence of the Streptococcus bacterium. If the test is negative but they still think that it could be strep, they will do a throat culture. This process takes a little longer but will determine if that was the cause.


Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done for the common cold. Treatment is usually over-the-counter medications that alleviate the symptoms. This can include NSAIDs, cough medicine and decongestants. Most colds run their course in 7-10 days. If the child is wheezing, some doctors may prescribe a steroidal treatment to alleviate this. If the cold lasts longer than a week, medical personnel need to be consulted.

If it is determined that the sore throat is strep, the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic, typically penicillin or amoxicillin. If patient is allergic to penicillin, they have other options so don’t be concerned. These antibiotics will shorten the duration of the illness, decrease the potential for infecting others and prevent more serious conditions from developing. Most children feel some relief within 3-5 days of beginning treatment. Even though they may begin to feel better, they should complete the entire round of antibiotics.

Who Is at Risk?

Children (5-15 years) are at the highest risk of contracting strep. It is rare for a child under three years to get it. Adults also have a lower risk but there are exceptions. Parents with school age children or who routinely interact with children, such as teachers and caregivers, have a higher risk level. Individuals in communal situations, such as military facilities, may also have a higher risk of infection.

When to see a medical professional

If you suspect you or your child may have strep, medical care is needed. Immediate care is needed if the child is wheezing, has difficulty breathing or is exceptionally weak. Even if they have had their tonsils removed, it is still possible for an infection to occur so medical diagnosis and treatment are still important to avoid more serious conditions.

As Dr. Gregory Blomquist, Chief Medical Officer at Community Med urgent care clinic in Haslett, Texas, advises: "With any condition, it always pays to get diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible." If you suspect your child may have strep throat, seek diagnosis and treatment by medical professionals.


Good hygiene is the best prevention. Regular hand washing and use of hand sanitizers are very important steps to take to prevent both colds and strep. Also, sneezing into an elbow instead of the hands is a good measure. Disposing of used tissues and basic cleanliness helps.

This is a guest blog entry.

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