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Understanding (and Soothing) Your Child’s Sore Throat

You know the feeling yourself, and you can see it on your child’s face: sore throats are no fun. They can be scratchy and painful. They make it hard to eat or drink. They also can be a sign of illness, like a cold or the flu. Here, we answer some common questions you may have when your child has a sore throat.

What causes a sore throat?
Most sore throats are caused by a virus. Sometimes, an infection caused by bacteria can lead to a sore throat – this is known as strep throat. Other causes can include allergies or exposure to smoke.

What are the symptoms?
A sore throat makes it painful to swallow. Other common symptoms include cough, runny nose, and fever. Some viruses (like hand-foot-and-mouth disease) cause ulcers in the mouth.It can be difficult to tell if a sore throat is due to a virus or a bacteria, like strep throat. If your child has strep throat, the sore throat may also come with other symptoms, like:

  • Throat pain that comes on quickly
  • White patches or pus on the tonsils
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen and painful lymph nodes under the neck
  • High fever for 2-3 days

My child is young or unable to communicate. How will I know if they have a sore throat?Looking for redness in the back of their throat can be helpful. Other signs include increased fussiness, decreased appetite, and increased drooling.

How is it treated?

Most sore throats are caused by a virus and will go away in a few days without treatment. In these cases, the most important thing is to treat discomfort. Here are good treatments to consider:

  • Cold liquids and treats can numb the pain. Try popsicles, ice chips, or milkshakes.
  • Warm drinks like soup broth or tea can help soothe a sore throat.
  • If your child is hungry, soft foods like warm oatmeal, applesauce, and mashed potatoes are easier to swallow.
  • Can your child gargle without swallowing? If so, try gargling with salt water twice daily. (Tip: They can usually gargle at about eight years old.)
  • Kids aged four and older can suck on throat lozenges.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the pain. (No baby aspirin unless their doctor says it’s OK.) Be sure to use the right dosage for your child’s age and weight. Here are some helpful dosing tables:
  • TYLENOL/Acetaminophen
  • MOTRIN/Ibuprofen

Usually, antibiotics do not help. But, if your child has strep throat, antibiotics should be used to treat it.

Should I call the doctor?
A sore throat that lasts more than three days should be seen by your doctor to test for strep throat. As always, you should seek medical help for any symptoms that are severe, especially difficulty breathing or swallowing. A high or long-lasting fever is another symptom that should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

We can help
Imagine Pediatrics is here to improve the health and lives of children with medical complexity and special health care needs. We provide virtual health care 24/7. So, you can get support for your child anytime without leaving your home. We do not replace your child’s doctors. We team up with them to give your child medical, behavioral, and social care and support whenever they need it. Learn more about how we can help at or call us 833-208-7770.

Unlimited 24/7 access to your care team via messaging, phone call, or video visit using our mobile app.

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