Sore Throat Save Antibiotics for Strep

An inflamed, irritated throat is good reason to see a doctor. And sore throats accounted for more than 7 million doctor visits by children just last year. Unfortunately, 70 percent of kids with sore throats receive antibiotic drugs, while only 30 percent-at most-have infections caused by group A streptococcal bacteria, or "strep."

When sore throat accompanies cold symptoms (runny nose and cough without fever or red throat), there's no need for antibiotics: Their overuse is giving rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These drugs deplete friendly bacteria in the digestive tract and may cause life-threatening allergic reactions in some individuals.

For Sore Throats
Often caused by low humidity this time of year, sore throat may feel worse in the morning, when mucous membranes are dry and swollen. Steam inhalation with lavender or thyme essential oils eases pain in these cases.

Food allergies and chronic hay fever can also irritate the throat, making it susceptible to infections. Eat plenty of immune-supportive fresh garlic for its antibacterial and antiviral benefits. Warm chicken or miso soup will add important fluids, and a fruit-juice popsicle makes a temporary anesthetic for a sore throat. Gargling with salt water is an age-old way to soothe a sore throat and reduce inflammation. Calendula tincture added to a cup of hot water makes a healing mouthwash, as well. Add echinacea tincture to water for a spray that fights viral infections-the cause of most sore throats.

To support the immune system, reduce dairy, refined carbohydrates, and sugar in the diet, and eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains instead. Sugar-free lozenges-with vitamin C and/or zinc-also help speed healing. In addition, taking a carotenoid complex twice a day for the first two days can support the immune system.

Also consider homeopathic remedies that work with the body's natural healing mechanisms, including the following:

  • Aconite when a burning throat and swollen tonsils come on suddenly.
  • Apis when pain is worse on the right side of the throat and feels better with cold drinks.
  • Belladonna for sore throat with red face and fever.
  • Gelsemium for painful swallowing, accompanied by weakness and exhaustion.
  • Lachesis when constricting pain is worse on the left side and relieved by swallowing food.

In Case of Strep
Most common among school-age children, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever if untreated. While it's sometimes hard to distinguish strep from a virus, the following symptoms signal this bacterial infection:

  • sudden onset of very sore throat
  • red throat and tonsils (sometimes with white patches and pus)
  • trouble swallowing
  • fever (above 101º)
  • tender, often swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • headache
  • shaking and shivering, alternating with cold sweats.

Children with strep throat may also have abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

To prevent antibiotic resistance, ask for a throat culture if you suspect strep-and wait for the results before starting drug therapy. Alan L. Bisno, MD, an internist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, says it's safe to wait several days-up to nine-before taking antibiotics without compromising the chance to prevent rheumatic fever.

While waiting for culture results (and as a complement to drugs), consider herbal approaches. Children under six can take one-quarter of the adult dosages suggested below; those six to twelve need one-half of the following amounts:

  • Goldenseal or Oregon grape root tincture (15 to 20 drops in 1/4 c water; 3 times daily for 10 days) helps prevent strep from attaching to throat lining.
  • Echinacea tablets (at least 900 mg daily) help prevent strep from forming colonies, which can multiply rapidly.
  • Ginger tea (mix 1/3 tsp powder with 1 c water) can relieve pain.

If antibiotics are prescribed, be sure to take the full course, as well as probiotics or beneficial bacteria, several hours after medication and for two weeks once drug therapy is complete.

selected sources "Antibiotic Treatment of Children with Sore Throat" by Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, et al., JAMA, 11/9/05 "Careful Antibiotic Use," CDC, 3/2/06 The Parent's Guide to Natural Health Care for Children by Karen Sullivan ($18.95, Shambhala, 2004) Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC ($23.95, Penguin Group/Avery, 2002) Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, ND, LAc, Robert Rountree, MD, and Rachel Walton, RN ($22.95, Penguin Group/Avery, 2003) "Strep Symptoms: When to Use Antibiotics" by Jane E. Brody, New York Times, 10/10/06

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