When your child has a sore throat, it can be a worrying time for any parent. This is especially true if you are unsure of the cause or how to relieve the discomfort.
Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to help make your child feel better and reduce the duration and severity of their sore throat. While consulting your family doctor should always be the first step in treating any illness, some home remedies can help comfort your child. But which home remedies work?
Blueberry Pediatrician Dr. Casey Sommerfeld discusses some of the most effective home remedies for relieving a sore throat in children, from salt water to honey to ice cream.
Symptoms of a sore throat
“Sore throat” might sound self-explanatory, but the pain type and severity depend on its cause. The Mayo Clinic notes some ways a sore throat might present itself:
- Pain or a scratchy sensation in the throat
- Pain that worsens with swallowing or talking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore, swollen glands in your neck or jaw
- Swollen, red tonsils
- White patches or pus on your tonsils
- A hoarse or muffled voice
Sore throat causes
There are many different reasons why a child may complain of sore throat. We’ve segmented those reasons into three categories: strep pharyngitis, viral pharyngitis, and viral upper respiratory infection.
Strep pharyngitis, or strep throat, is a bacterial infection typically caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, also called group A streptococcus. These bacteria are contagious and are spread through droplets of saliva when an infected person coughs or sneezes or when food or drinks are shared.
If your child is over 3 years old, you or your doctor can perform a throat swab test to confirm whether your child has strep throat. In the test, a cotton swab is rubbed against the back of your child's throat and tonsils. If you’d like to conduct the test at home, chat with a Blueberry pediatrician, and then order a five-minute rapid strep test. Depending on your child's test results, medication will be prescribed.
Viral pharyngitis is inflammation of the pharynx, a tube in the back of the throat that sits between the tonsils and voice box. It occurs when specific viruses infect the pharynx directly, such as mononucleosis, hand, foot, and mouth disease, enterovirus (herpangina), adenovirus (frequently occurs with pink eye), and COVID-10.
These viruses can be diagnosed through examination or at-home or in-office testing. For at-home diagnosis, you can connect with a pediatrician through the Blueberry Pediatrics app, where you’ll receive guidance on taking pictures of the throat and administering at-home tests if needed. After a diagnosis, a doctor will advise treatment and prescribe medication if necessary.
Viral upper respiratory infections
Viruses that cause the common cold, such as rhinovirus and coronavirus, and the influenza virus, can lead to upper respiratory infections. These viruses can be diagnosed through examination or, in some cases, testing, and initial symptoms may start with a sore throat and quickly progress to a runny nose, congestion, and cough.
Additionally, your child may be experiencing sore throat due to:
- Post nasal drip from a viral infection, sinus infection, or allergic rhinitis
- Local irritation from dryness (hot-air heating in the winter or mouth breathing), foreign body. or chemical exposure
- Referred pain from the teeth, enlarged neck lymph nodes, or otitis media (ear infection)
- More serious infections such as retropharyngeal abscess, peritonsillar abscess, epiglottitis
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What to do if your child has a sore throat
Treatment for your child’s throat pain depends on the underlying cause and can range from simple home remedies to doctor-prescribed antibiotics or other medications. Your doctor will advise you on the best course of action, but there are things you can do to help keep your child comfortable.
First, it’s important to keep your child hydrated. Encourage fluid intake by offering sips of warm or cold liquids - like herbal tea, vegetable or chicken broth, or chicken soup - throughout the day.
If your child does not want to drink or eat due to pain or fever, give them Ibuprofen (kids over six months) or Tylenol (any age) and try again once their pain is under control. When feeding your child, prioritize easy-to-swallow foods like mashed potatoes
In addition to staying hydrated, ensure your child gets plenty of rest, as it can help reduce irritation and speed up healing. At night, using a humidifier in the bedroom can add moisture to the room and help alleviate some of the pain associated with a sore throat.
What to give a child with a sore throat: home remedies
Drinking plenty of fluids and rest is paramount for your child’s healing process. You may also want to try a few home remedies. Let’s explore some of the most common remedies that parents ask about.
Does gargling salt water help a sore throat?
Yes, gargling warm salt water can help loosen and thin mucus and reduce swelling in the throat. It is the first remedy Dr. Sommerfeld recommends for children who are old enough to spit.
To make a saltwater solution at home, add one teaspoon of table salt or sea salt to eight ounces of warm water. Gargle with this mixture for 30 seconds about four times a day.
Does honey help a sore throat?
Honey can be helpful in soothing sore throats, as it has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation and pain. Parents should only try this remedy for children over one-year-old. Children under one year old should not be given honey due to the risk of botulism.
Mix one teaspoon of honey in four ounces of cold or warm water, and have your child drink the mixture. You can also add a pinch of salt to the honey and water mixture, which may help reduce inflammation.
Does ice cream help a sore throat?
Most children love eating ice cream, understandably so! However, ice cream is not commonly recommended as a home remedy to ease throat pain. Dr. Sommerfeld advises swapping the ice cream for a popsicle, as it allows for more fluids to help keep your child hydrated.
Are hot or cold foods better for sore throats?
Both hot and cold foods and liquids are okay to consume with sore throats, Dr. Sommerfeld advises. Which you choose largely depends on your child's preference.
Regardless of your choice, focus on serving nutrient-dense foods and having your child drink plenty of liquids to help boost immune system health.
Are there any foods to avoid with a sore throat?
It is best to avoid acidic foods or drinks, such as citrus fruits or juices as they can aggravate sore throats. Hard and spicy foods can also exacerbate sore throat pain and should be avoided.
It can be helpful to stick with bland and soft foods that won't rub against the throat, like mashed potatoes, oatmeal, or yogurt.
When is it time to see a doctor?
Watch closely for changes associated with your child's sore throat. Some signs such as excess drooling, difficulty swallowing saliva, stiff neck or pain in the neck, trouble breathing, or noisy breathing. These symptoms could indicate a more significant concern or serious illness and you should seek immediate medical care for your child.
Additionally, you should consult your pediatrician if you’re concerned your child is dehydrated (not wanting to drink any liquids or decreased urine output) or experiencing persistent or worsening symptoms.
Need to chat with a doctor right away? You can chat with board-certified pediatricians about your child's health anytime with Blueberry Pediatrics. Blueberry offers text, phone, or video care from board-certified pediatricians 24/7. Some of the most common conditions our pediatricians advise is related to throat pain, including strep throat and tonsillitis.
The best part? An entire year of Blueberry membership costs less than the typical copay of a single urgent care visit, and one membership covers all children in your household! It's like having a doctor's office in your house. Sign up here.
- Mayo Clinic Staff (2022). Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Strep throat
- Centers for Disease Control (2021). Sore throat. Symptoms of sore throat
- Wolford RW, Goyal A, Belgam Syed SY, et al. (Updated 2023). In: StatPearls [Internet], Pharyngitis
- Mount Sinai (Updated 2022). Pharyngitis - viral
- California Department of Health, Infant Boutlism Treatment and Prevention Program, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Infant Boutlism
- Mayo Clinic Staff (2021). Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Sore throat