Sore throat causes
The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection like the common cold, flu or glandular fever.
Bacterial infections are much less common. These infections include streptococcal infections and some ear infections.
If your child’s tonsils are swollen and red, it’s possible that tonsillitis is causing the sore throat.
Mouth ulcers can also cause a sore throat.
The medical name for a sore throat or a throat infection is pharyngitis.
Sore throat symptoms
If your child’s sore throat is caused by the common cold, they’re likely to have a runny nose, cough and possibly sore ears, along with a fever, tiredness and a poor appetite.
If the cause is flu, your child might also have aches and pains.
It’s more likely to be a streptococcal infection if your child is older than 3 years and has swollen lymph nodes, swollen red tonsils with white spots, and a rash. They might also have a fever, stomach pain and vomiting. This kind of sore throat might not come with a runny nose and cough.
If your child has glandular fever, they’ll probably also have large swollen lymph nodes and be very tired over a long period.
Medical help: when to get it for children with a sore throat
You should take your child to the GP if your child has a sore throat and:
- has trouble breathing or swallowing
- is drooling more than usual
- complains of a stiff or swollen neck
- can’t fully open their mouth
- has a fever for no apparent reason.
Also see the GP if you’re not sure or are concerned about your child’s symptoms.
Tests for sore throat
If your GP thinks your child’s sore throat is caused by a streptococcal infection, your GP will most likely take a swab from your child’s throat to confirm the diagnosis.
If your GP thinks a virus is causing your child’s sore throat, they might order a blood test to help them find out which one. This is only done for certain viruses – for example, glandular fever. Your doctor won’t order a blood test if they think your child has a common cold or the flu.
Sore throat treatment
The way you treat a sore throat depends on its cause.
Sore throats caused by a virus
There’s no cure for this kind of sore throat, but you can treat the symptoms:
- Give your child saline nose drops to help with a blocked nose.
- Give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen in recommended doses to help with pain.
- Encourage older children to suck on lozenges (if they can do this safely) or use mouth sprays that numb the throat.
- Encourage your child to take frequent sips of fluid so they stay hydrated. You could use an oral rehydration fluid like Gastrolyte or Hydralyte, which you can get at pharmacies and supermarkets.
- Offer fluids via a syringe or spoon, or let your child suck icy poles.
If your child’s sore throat isn’t responding to simple pain relief like paracetamol, your GP might prescribe a short course of corticosteroids.
Sore throat caused by bacteria
If your child’s sore throat is caused by bacteria, as in a streptococcal infection, your GP will probably prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
The tips above for treating sore throat symptoms will also help.
If children have a bacterial infection that’s causing a significant amount of pus to build up at the back of the throat, they might need to go into hospital. This often needs treatment with intravenous antibiotics, and children probably also need to see an ear, nose and throat specialist.