Pharyngitis (Sore Throat), Report Pending

Two close up views of the throat showing normal tonsils and inflamed tonsils and throat.

Pharyngitis (sore throat) is often due to a virus. It can also be caused by strep (streptococcus) bacteria. This is often called strep throat. Both viral and strep infections can cause throat pain that is worse when swallowing, aching all over, headache, and fever. Both types of infections are contagious. They may be spread by coughing, kissing, or touching others after touching your mouth or nose.

A test has been done to find out if you or your child have strep throat. Often a rapid strep test can be done which gives immediate results and treatment can begin right away. A throat culture may also be done. The culture results take longer. If you have a virus, the culture results will be negative. The facility will call with your culture results. Call this facility or your healthcare provider if you were not given your rapid test results for strep. If a test is positive for strep infection, you will need to take an antibiotic. An antibiotic is a medicine used to treat a bacterial infection. A prescription can be called into your pharmacy or a written copy will be given to you at that time. If both tests are negative, you likely have a virus, usually viral pharyngitis. This does not need to be treated with antibiotics. Until you receive the results of the rapid strep test or the throat culture, you should stay home from work. If your child is being tested, he or she should stay home from school.

Home care

  • Rest at home. Drink plenty of fluids so you won't get dehydrated.

  • If the test is positive for strep, you or your child should not go to work or school for the first 24 hours of taking the antibiotics or as directed by the healthcare provider. After this time, you or your child will not be contagious. You or your child can then return to work or school when feeling better or as directed by this facility or your healthcare provider. 

  • Use the antibiotic medicine (often penicillin or amoxicillin) for the full 10 days or as directed by the healthcare provider. Don't stop the medicine even if you or your child feel better. This is very important to make sure the infection is fully treated. It's also important to prevent medicine-resistant germs from growing. Treatment for 10 days is also the best way to prevent rheumatic fever which affects the heart and other parts of the body. If you or your child were given an antibiotic shot, the healthcare provider will tell you if additional antibiotics are needed.

  • Use throat lozenges or numbing throat sprays to help reduce pain. Gargling with warm salt water will also help reduce throat pain. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 glass of warm water. Discuss this treatment with your healthcare provider.

  • Children can sip on juice or ice pops. Children 5 years and older can also suck on a lollipop or hard candy.

  • Don't eat salty or spicy foods or give them to your child. These can irritate the throat.

Other medicine for a child: You can give your child acetaminophen for fever, fussiness, or discomfort. In babies over 6 months of age, you may use ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen. If your child has chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your child’s healthcare provider before giving these medicines. Aspirin should never be used by any child under 18 years of age who has a fever. It may cause severe liver damage. Always contact your child's healthcare provider before giving him or her over-the-counter medicines for the first time.

Other medicine for an adult: You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain or fever, unless another medicine was prescribed for this. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or our staff if you or your child don't feel or get better within 72 hours or as directed.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child has a fever (see "Fever and children," below)

  • You have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed

  • New or worsening ear pain, sinus pain, or headache

  • Painful lumps in the back of neck

  • Stiff or swollen neck

  • Lymph nodes are getting larger or swelling of the neck

  • Can’t open mouth wide due to throat pain

  • Signs of dehydration, such as very dark urine or no urine or sunken eyes

  • Noisy breathing

  • Muffled voice

  • New rash

  • Symptoms are worse

  • New symptoms develop

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms

  • Can't swallow, especially saliva, with a lot of drooling

  • Trouble or difficulty breathing or wheezing

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Can't talk

  • Feeling of doom

Prevention

Here are steps you can take to help prevent an infection:

  • Keep good hand washing habits.

  • Don’t have close contact with people who have sore throats, colds, or other upper respiratory infections.

  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from secondhand smoke.

  • Stay up to date with of your vaccines.

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until he or she is at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in a baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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