It's no secret: children become sick quickly and often, and a sore throat is one of the most common indicators that your child has an infection.
Accompanying symptoms, such as cough, runny nose, or hoarse voice, may suggest your child has a viral infection, like the common cold or flu.
But if your child experiences symptoms such as painful swallowing, red and swollen tonsils, white patches on the tonsils, or swollen lymph nodes in the front of their neck - they may have contracted strep throat.
If you believe your child has strep throat, your next step is to confirm with a strep test. Luckily, at-home strep tests can be purchased over-the-counter or online - because when your child is not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is leave your house.
Keep reading to learn all about at-home strep tests: how they work, their accuracy, where to buy them, and what to do if your child's test results are positive.
What is strep throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that affects people of all ages but is especially common among children aged 5 to 15. Strep throat is differentiated from other sore throats by the lack of a cough and the presence of specific symptoms:
- Sore throat
- White patches on the tonsils
- Pain when swallowing
- Swollen neck glands
- Bright red tongue
- Trouble swallowing
- Little red spots on the roof of the mouth
How do you diagnose strep throat?
A rapid strep test and a throat culture are the two most common tests for diagnosing a strep infection. These tests are performed to identify the presence of Group A Streptococcus bacteria, which is responsible for causing strep throat. Both tests are valuable tools in diagnosing strep infections and guiding appropriate treatment.
What is a rapid strep test?
A rapid strep test uses a throat swab to collect saliva from the back of the throat and tonsils. Within minutes, it detects antigens (surface proteins or pieces of the bacteria) unique to Group A Streptococcus bacteria.
How does a rapid strep test differ from a throat culture?
A throat culture can only be done at a doctor's office. It involves collecting a sample from the throat and incubating it in a laboratory setting to allow the bacteria to grow. It typically requires 24-48 hours for a result. A positive culture means there are live Group A Streptococcus in the sample.
Are at-home strep tests FDA-approved?
Rapid strep tests are approved by the FDA for healthcare professionals. However, at-home strep tests are not FDA-approved - even if a box says otherwise. Some at-home test brands are currently under FDA review.
Strep tests must be prescribed by a doctor and performed under supervision by a professional.
How accurate are home strep tests?
While throat cultures are the most accurate of the two tests, studies have confirmed that rapid strep tests are accurate and reliable for diagnosing strep throat.
What happens after a test is positive?
You should contact your child's doctor if their test results indicate a strep throat infection. Your pediatrician will likely ask you to schedule a visit so they can confirm the diagnosis through an in-office strep test and then advise treatment.
Want to skip the in-office visit? Blueberry Pediatrics members can message the pediatric team through the easy-to-use, HIPAA-compliant app with a picture of the home strep results and their child’s throat. A pediatrician will review the test and your child's other symptoms and advise treatment.
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What happens if a test is negative?
If your child's at-home strep test results are negative, but their symptoms strongly indicate a strep throat infection, you should contact their pediatrician. The pediatrician can evaluate your child and determine the appropriate next steps.
How do you treat strep throat?
Antibiotics are the most effective means to prevent complications and relieve strep throat symptoms. Without antibiotic treatment, symptoms and contagiousness may persist for 2-3 weeks.
While antibiotics take effect, over-the-counter pain relievers and home remedies can help alleviate your child's discomfort. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) are the best over-the-counter pain relievers for strep throat relief.
Effective home remedies for the pain associated with strep throat include:
- Drinking herbal tea
- Getting plenty of rest
- Gargling with salt water
- Drinking cold fluids or sucking on popsicles
Where can I buy a strep throat at-home test?
Some websites sell home strep tests from reputable manufacturers. While Blueberry doesn’t sell at-home strep tests, our doctors can prescribe strep tests.
Diagnose and treat strep throat from the comfort of home
Sore throats are one of the most common illnesses that children and parents have to deal with. Not only can a sore throat be an uncomfortable symptom for a child, but it can also be an indicator of more severe illnesses.
More than likely, your child's throat pain is due to a viral infection. But if your child is between 5 and 15 years old, strep throat is always a possible explanation for their throat pain, especially when other symptoms - like red and swollen tonsils and swollen lymph nodes - are present.
A diagnosis can only be confirmed through testing. Tests can be performed at the doctor's office - but it can be a hassle to schedule an appointment, get your child to the doctor's office, and wait (what feels like forever) to be seen while sitting with coughing patients in the waiting room
If, for some reason, your child's doctor is not available, your next option is urgent care, which is also time-consuming and even more expensive.
Your third option? Sign up for a Blueberry Pediatrics membership and keep a set of rapid tests in your medicine cabinet. You'll be able to quickly identify the infection when signs first appear and consult a pediatrician immediately for a confirmed diagnosis and medication.
Blueberry Pediatrics is an on-demand, virtual pediatric healthcare service for children aged 0 to 21. It offers unlimited, 24/7 visits with board-certified pediatricians via text, phone, or video, and the ability to get a doctor's note easily through the app, when a doctor determines that your child should stay home from school or daycare.
The best part? An entire year of Blueberry membership costs less than the typical copay of a single urgent care visit, and one membership covers all children in your household! It's like having a doctor's office in your house. Sign up here to chat with a pediatrician right away. Sign up to get care right away.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is strep throat?
A highly contagious bacterial infection common in children aged 5-10. It is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria or “Group A Streptococcus”. If left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to serious complications, like rheumatic fever.
How do I know if my child has a strep infection?
Testing is the only way to diagnose strep. The rapid strep test and throat culture are the main diagnostic tests to identify strep infections and find the Group A Streptococcus bacteria that causes strep throat.
How accurate are rapid strep tests?
Rapid tests are a fast, simple, and reliable way to diagnose strep throat quickly.
Does strep throat go away by itself?
It typically does not go away on its own and usually requires medical treatment. Your child's doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics, and within 48 hours of starting antibiotics, your child’s contagiousness will decrease, and symptoms will improve.
Is strep throat contagious?
Yes, strep throat is highly contagious and can be spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread by direct contact with nasal secretions from an infected person, such as sharing utensils, cups, or kissing.
Can my baby get strep throat?
If your child is under three, as a general rule, they do not need to be tested or treated for strep throat. Strep is less common in young children and does not need to be routinely treated at this age since it goes away on its own. Complications from strep are not seen in children under three years old.
What if my child recently had antibiotics for strep but has a sore throat and fever again?
Unfortunately, rapid strep testing is unreliable when there has been a recent positive rapid test. Most sources say that rapid strep tests can stay positive for up to one month, which makes it hard to tell if your home test is positive due to the current illness or the previous strep infection. To determine if your child needs another course of antibiotics, your doctor may recommend an in-person visit to do the throat culture, which is more accurate in this situation because it is not affected by a recent past strep infection.