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Healthwise Maui

Q: What’s the difference between strep throat and a sore throat?

Dr. David Crow, otolaryngologist, Advanced Pacific Ear, Nose and Throat: Most sore throats in kids are caused by viruses, but about 30 percent are caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus, or strep. In addition to the usual scratchy, red, sore throat, there are certain symptoms that are common in strep throat, like white spots in the throat, swollen tonsils, red spots on the roof of the mouth and fever. With strep, the sore throat is also often more severe and begins suddenly.

You can’t diagnose strep throat by looking at it, so your family’s doctor will need to do a throat culture to be sure. If it turns out to be strep, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. Even if your symptoms go away after you start taking the antibiotics, it’s important to finish all the medication or the strep might come back.

While strep is usually thought of as a childhood illness, it can affect people of all ages. Strep is very contagious. It spreads through tiny droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can help prevent it from spreading by staying home from work or school, washing hands frequently, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. If you think you may have strep throat, make an appointment right away with your primary care physician. If he/she feels you need more specific/specialized medical care or consultation, they may refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor.

Q: What is eczema? Can it be managed?

Dr. Jinmeng Zhang, dermatologist, Hawaii Permanente Medical Group/Pacific Permanente Group: Eczema is a very common medical condition influenced by genetic and environmental factors that occurs in both children and adults. Some of the common symptoms include dry itchy skin that becomes flaky or scaly, is red or with darker patches, has raised bumps, is crusty and oozy. Rubbing or scratching can worsen the itching, which leads to irritation and open sores on the skin. Eczema can occur concomitantly with other medical conditions, such as asthma or food/environmental allergies, but typically one does not directly cause the other. There are many factors that can trigger eczema, such as dry skin, weather change, chronic rubbing, and application of various products on the skin, etc.

Some patients suffer a chronic and relapsing course, but it is not contagious, and there are things that one can do to minimize its severity. When bathing or showering, use lukewarm water instead of hot water, as hot water can cause itching. Try to limit soap use only in odorous areas, such as armpit and groin, because lathering soap all over can cause over-drying of the skin. After washing, gently pat the skin dry with a towel and avoid scrubbing to prevent irritation. Moisturizing daily with thick emollients right after showering helps to lock in the body’s moisture and avoid dry itchy skin that can trigger a flare-up.

If your eczema is interfering with your sleep or daily activities, or if your symptoms are getting worse, talk with your doctor about whether medication may be appropriate to manage your condition.

* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on Thursdays. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealthsystem.org/contact.