As a child, my go-to excuse for getting out of school was to complain of a sore throat. I’d put on a raspy voice and insist I was on the brink of a serious illness. It almost never worked, and my karmic payback came in college when I had a recurring case of strep throat and an allergic reaction to the penicillin I was prescribed to treat it.
While I was usually making it up, the truth is that kids do often come down with sore throats and it’s important to determine the cause and appropriate course of treatment. Here’s what you should know about sore throats in kids:
Sore throats are usually caused by a viral (most common) or bacterial infection (less common). Another rare cause of sore throat in children is a foreign object that the young child may have swallowed that’s become lodged in her throat, esophagus, or respiratory tract.
- Viral sore throats don’t require medical treatment other than over-the-counter pain remedies and rest.
- A sore throat caused by a bacterial infection is usually caused by the A streptococcus bacterium (strep throat). This type of infection requires treatment with antibiotics.
Viral vs. bacterial:
A viral sore throat is often accompanied by an upper respiratory infection and common cold symptoms. It can even be caused by the flu. The following symptoms suggest a viral sore throat:
- A runny or congested nose
- Irritation or redness of the eyes
- Cough, hoarseness, or soreness in the roof of the mouth
- Skin rash
- A mild fever
Strep throat is the cause of 30 percent of sore throats in children over three years old, as compared to only 10 percent of sore throats in adults. It’s usually characterized by the following symptoms:
- Pain in the throat
- Fever temperature greater than 100.4 F
- Enlarged lymph glands in the neck
- White patches of pus on the side or back of the throat
- No cough, runny nose, or irritation/redness of the eyes
- Abdominal pain
In children age three and younger, strep throat is uncommon, but is marked by the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Prolonged congestion
- A fever of 101 F or lower
- Tender glands in the neck
- Fussiness and decreased appetite in infants
If you suspect your child has a strep throat infection, it’s important to see your doctor for a strep test. If left untreated, strep throat can turn into rheumatic fever – a much more serious condition.
If your child has any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Skin rash
- Excessive drooling
- Swelling of the neck or tongue
- Stiff neck or difficulty opening the mouth
- A fever of 101 F or higher
- Muffled voice
- Inability or unwillingness to drink or eat
Is your throat starting to feel scratchy? Be sure to read our adult sore throat guide!