When your child gets a sore throat, an antibiotic may seem like the best and fastest treatment, but often it’s not. In fact, unnecessary treatment with an antibiotic can lead to unwanted side effects like upset stomach, diarrhea, drowsiness, dizziness, rashes and a rapid heartbeat.
A sore throat, also known as pharyngitis, is most often caused by a viral infection. Viral infections usually get better on their own and don’t require antibiotics. Bacterial infections, on the other hand, may require an antibiotic prescription. It’s important to know what type of infection your child has to determine the best, safest treatment.
More respiratory infections happen in winter
During winter, sore throats and other upper respiratory infections are more common. Many upper respiratory infections include having a sore throat, so it’s hard to guess the exact cause. Fortunately, your child’s pediatrician has lab tests available that can help determine if the infection is viral or bacterial and if antibiotics are the right treatment.
Strep throat, or group A Streptococcus, is an example of an illness that can be easily tested for the need for antibiotics. (Most often it does require treatment.) The test can be done with a simple throat swab. The symptoms of strep throat may include:
- Throat pain that usually comes on quickly
- Painful swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
- Tiny red spots on the area at the back of the roof of the mouth (soft or hard palate)
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes in your neck
- Nausea or vomiting, especially in younger children
- Body aches
Test first to avoid unnecessary antibiotics
It's possible for your child to have many of these signs and symptoms but not have strep throat. That’s why it’s important for your provider to perform a rapid strep test before prescribing antibiotics.
Because of widespread antibiotic overuse, many bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. This is worrisome because it reduces treatment options when an antibiotic is truly needed, and few new antibiotics are being developed. This has now become one of the world’s most critical public health threats.
Prevention is always best
- As with most common illnesses, preventing a sore throat starts with regular hand washing.
- We can also avoid sore throats by following these simple rules:
- Keep eating utensils separated, and wash them in hot, soapy water or a dishwasher after each use.
- Don’t share food, drinks, napkins or towels.
- Sneeze or cough into a shirtsleeve, not in our hands.
- Get a flu shot every year. The best time to get the flu vaccine is late summer or early fall, or as soon as it’s available in your community.
You can read more about overuse of antibiotics here.