Your or your child's doctor will start with a physical exam that will include:

  • Using a lighted instrument to look at the throat, and likely the ears and nasal passages
  • Gently feeling (palpating) the neck to check for swollen glands (lymph nodes)
  • Listening to your or your child's breathing with a stethoscope

Throat swab

With this simple test, the doctor rubs a sterile swab over the back of the throat to get a sample of secretions. The sample will be checked in a lab for streptococcal bacteria, the cause of strep throat. Many clinics are equipped with a lab that can get a test result within a few minutes. However, a second, often more-reliable test is sometimes sent to a lab that returns results within 24 to 48 hours.

If the rapid, in-clinic test comes back positive, then you almost certainly have a bacterial infection. If the test comes back negative, then you likely have a viral infection. Your doctor might wait, however, for the out-of-clinic lab test to determine the cause of the infection.