When your child gets a sore throat, an antibiotic may seem like the best and fastest treatment. 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 go away on their own and do not 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.
Sore throats and other upper respiratory infections are more common in the fall and winter months. Many upper respiratory infections include having a sore throat, so it’s hard to know 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 (group A strep), is an example of an illness that can be easily tested for the need for antibiotics and most often does require treatment. This can be done with a simple throat swab. The symptoms of strep throat can 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
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 doctor to perform a rapid strep test before prescribing antibiotics.1
Due to widespread antibiotic overuse, many bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. This is worrisome because it reduces treatment options when an antibiotic is truly needed, at a time when few new antibiotics are being developed. Overuse of antibiotics has now become one of the world’s most critical public health threats.2
Prevention is always best. As with most common illnesses, preventing a sore throat starts with regular hand washing. Sore throats can also be avoided by:
- Keeping eating utensils separate and washing them in hot, soapy water or a dishwasher after each use.
- Not sharing food, drinks, napkins, or towels.
- Sneezing or coughing into a shirtsleeve, not in our hands.
- Getting a flu shot every year. The best time to get the flu vaccine is the late summer/early fall or as soon as it is available in your community.
1 Source: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/medication-safety/Pages/Antibiotics-for-a-Sore-Throat-Cough-or-Runny-Nose.aspx
2 Source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/do-you-really-need-antibiotics-sore-throat-doctors-urged-curb-unnecessary-use-bacteria-fighting-meds