Sore throat

Sore throat

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 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, she's 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 three years, and if he has swollen neck glands, swollen red tonsils with white spots, and a rash. He might also have a fever, stomach pain and vomiting. This kind of sore throat might not come with a runny nose and cough.

Glandular fever is a relatively common cause of sore throats in older children. If your child has glandular fever, she'll probably also have large swollen lymph glands and be very tired over a long period.

Does your child need to see a doctor about 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 his mouth
  • has a fever for no apparent reason.

Also see the GP if you're not sure about your child's symptoms, but you think she might have a throat infection.

Sore throat treatment

The way you treat a sore throat depends on its cause.

There's no cure for a sore throat caused by a virus. Antibiotics won't help with viral infections.

All you can do for a sore throat caused by viral infection is treat the symptoms by:

  • giving your child saline nose drops to help with a blocked nose
  • giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen in recommended doses to help with pain
  • getting your child to take frequent sips of fluid to help him stay hydrated.

If your child's sore throat is caused by a streptococcal infection, your GP will most likely take a swab from your child's throat for analysis. The GP will probably prescribe antibiotics (usually penicillin) to treat the infection.

If your child isn't responding to simple pain relief like paracetamol, your GP might prescribe a short course of corticosteroids.

If children have a bacterial infection that's causing pus to build up at the back of the throat, they might need to go into hospital. This condition needs treatment with antibiotics, and children probably also need to see an ear, nose and throat specialist.