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Can you spot strep throat in children?

Parents come into the office convinced their child has strep throat because their flashlight exams at home revealed red tonsils. But in reality, strep throat can only be diagnosed by a rapid strep test or a throat culture.

Doctors can be highly suspicious of the streptococcal bacteria if the tonsils are swollen, red, covered in white patches, or there are red dots on the hard palate. However, there are numerous viruses that can also cause sore throats and red tonsils.

Strep throat is often associated with fever, abdominal pain, and vomiting, while cold symptoms are oftentimes absent or minimal. Viral causes of sore throats are more often associated with cough and congestion. But remember, only your child’s doctor can accurately diagnose strep throat. If the test is negative, be prepared to wait it out — viral causes of sore throats do not respond to antibiotics.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, April 2019

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