Clinical Tip: Sweep away fear of the dreaded throat swab

June 1, 2007

Like many pediatricians, I find that children, and even teens, often have a severe, phobia-like fear of the throat swab necessary for a strep test. To calm the patient, I say, “we are doing the strep test in a new way today.” Then I make a fairly big production of twisting the swab between my fingers until the cotton fluffs up a bit. I tell the child that the modified swab will prevent a choking sensation and instead produce more of a “sweeping” feeling. With younger children, I add that mice, like the ones they see in cartoons, use a similar “broom” for sweeping. Most children give me an amused or befuddled look and let me do the test with few, if any, tears.
Raymond O’Toole, MD
Bridgeville, Pa.