Sore throat is a common symptom that kids experience. It's often an accompanying symptom to many infections, like cold, strep throat, or the flu.
If throat irritation is causing turmoil for you and your child, keep reading to understand potential symptoms and causes, how to diagnose and treat them, and prevention tips to limit your little one's chance of recurring sore throat in the future.
- Viral or bacterial infections, allergies, and environmental irritants usually cause sore throats.
- Diagnosis may require a physical examination, an at-home test, or throat culture.
- Treatment for sore throat may include home remedies or medical intervention.
- Prevention involves good hygiene practices and avoiding irritants to reduce the risk of sore throat.
Symptoms and causes of sore throat
Sore throats can leave your child miserable, and pain and irritation may only worsen when swallowing or breathing through the mouth. The most common culprits behind sore throats are viral or bacterial infections, allergies, and environmental irritants that affect the back of your throat. Understanding the cause is the first step needed to help alleviate the discomfort.
Viral infections like the common cold, influenza, coxsackie virus (hand, foot, and mouth), and mono are typical causes of sore throats. These infections cause inflammation or irritation in the throat (pharyngitis), as well as other symptoms such as:
- throat pain
- difficulty swallowing
- swollen glands in the neck or jaw
- runny nose
- body aches
- mouth sores
Bacterial infections like strep throat can also cause sore throats. Strep is most common in children 5 to 15 years old and is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. The most common symptoms of strep are sore throat, headache, and belly pain. Strep throat sets itself apart from other sore throat-causing conditions by typically not being accompanied by:
- a runny nose
Allergies and environmental irritants
Apart from infections, allergies, smoke exposure, chemicals and other irritants in the environment can cause a sore throat. Additionally, if your child is experiencing a dry and painful throat, it may be due to dry air.
Diagnosing sore throat
To identify the cause of your child's sore throat and determine the appropriate treatment, a pediatrician may perform a physical examination, rapid strep test, or throat culture. These tests and procedures help distinguish between viral and bacterial infections, allowing for a more targeted approach to treatment.
Diagnosing a sore throat involves a physical examination to detect any indicators of infection and inflammation. Your child's doctor will visually inspect their throat for redness, swelling, or pus and may also feel your neck for swollen lymph nodes. To evaluate a sore throat through telemedicine, a doctor must have a good view of the back of a patient’s mouth, including the tonsils.
The information gathered from this examination aids in formulating an effective treatment plan.
Rapid strep test and throat culture
Specific tests like the rapid strep test and throat culture can help diagnose strep throat by determining if a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, is the cause of your sore throat.
The rapid strep test is a quick diagnostic test that can be done at home and checks for the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria in the throat by taking a swab sample.
A throat culture, on the other hand, is completed at a doctor's office and involves taking a sample of throat secretions and sending it to a lab for examination. This test helps identify the specific bacteria causing the infection, ensuring the most effective treatment can be prescribed.
Diagnosing strep throat at home
Rapid strep tests can be completed at home with a telemedicine service like Blueberry Pediatrics. Our pediatricians can diagnose and treat strep if an at-home test is positive; members can purchase test kits through the Blueberry app.
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Treating sore throat
Depending on the cause, treating a sore throat can involve home remedies or medicine (either over the counter or a prescription). Home remedies, such as warm liquids and throat lozenges, can relieve sore throat symptoms. At the same time, medical treatments like antibiotics or antivirals may be necessary for bacterial or flu-related sore throats.
Numerous home remedies exist that can help soothe the symptoms of a sore throat. Some effective remedies include:
- Gargling with warm salt water
- Drinking warm tea or broth
- Getting plenty of rest
Additionally, placing a humidifier in your child's room can help keep the air moist, preventing further irritation to their throat.
Occasionally, treating a sore throat may necessitate medical interventions. For bacterial infections like strep throat, antibiotics are prescribed to target the bacteria causing the infection.
On the other hand, if the flu causes your child's sore throat, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help lessen the severity and length of the infection.
Complications and when to seek medical help
While most sore throats get better with time and the right treatment, it's important to monitor your child for complications or worsening symptoms.
Untreated sore throats can lead to abscesses (pockets of pus that form in the throat due to a bacterial infection) and in rare cases, rheumatic fever (an inflammatory disease that can damage the heart, joints, and skin, resulting from untreated strep throat).
Seeking medical help
Seek immediate medical attention if your child's sore throat lasts over two weeks or if you notice any of these severe symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Swollen lymph nodes in your child's neck
Prevention tips for sore throat
Sore throats are common in children because, as their immune system gets exposed to more germs, they are susceptible to contracting illnesses with sore throat as a symptom.
You can help your kids limit sore throat (and illness) by encouraging frequent hand washing, regularly cleaning their toys and play or sleep spaces, and keeping them away from sick family members and friends.
Additionally, steering clear of irritants like smoke, dust, and airborne chemicals and encouraging fluid intake to avoid dehydration can play a significant role in keeping their throat moist, healthy, and free from irritation.
Get help for your child's sore throat at home
Sore throats can be a painful and annoying experience, but understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options, along with prevention methods, can help you manage, alleviate, and hopefully avoid your child being in discomfort.
Want to chat with a doctor about your child's sore throat? You can chat with board-certified pediatricians about your child's symptoms anytime with Blueberry Pediatrics. Blueberry offers text, phone, or video care from board-certified pediatricians 24/7. Receive a diagnosis and treatment guidance (including prescribed medication, if medically necessary) from the comfort of your home.
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 to chat with a pediatrician right away.
- CDC. (2022, June 27). Is your sore throat strep? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html
- Gupta, G., & McDowell, R. H. (2019). Peritonsillar Abscess. Peritonsillar Abscess. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519520/