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Pediatric Sore Throat Overview

Sore throats are often the result of minor illnesses that do not require prescribed medications. In some cases, however, a child’s sore throat can be a symptom of a more serious infection.

A sore throat, also known as pharyngitis, may be caused by a virus, which inflames the throat around the tonsils. It may accompany a cold or other acute respiratory infection. While an older child can tell you that his throat hurts, a younger child may simply be cranky and have no appetite.

Among throat viruses, infectious mononucleosis is a lengthier illness caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. While many young children with this virus show few or no symptoms, older children may have a sore throat lasting as long as four weeks, fever, headache, lethargy, and swollen glands in the neck and armpits.

Another virus linked to sore throat is Coxsackie infection, commonly known as Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Coxsackie sufferers may have difficulty swallowing, a higher fever, and may have blisters on the throat, hands and feet.

Strep throat is caused by the Group A streptococcus, a specific bacterium that causes throat and tonsil inflammation. Strep throat may be accompanied by fever, headache, white patches on your child’s throat or tonsils, painful swallowing, swollen glands in your child’s jaw or throat – even abdominal pain and vomiting.

Tonsillitis also leaves the tonsils inflamed and can be caused by bacteria or a virus. It can share symptoms with strep throat, so it’s important to make an appointment with your WellStar pediatrician, who can take a throat culture and determine the cause of the infection.

In children, a sore throat may also be the result of excessive coughing or yelling, low humidity, allergies, airborne chemicals or irritants, or exposure to cigarette smoke.


In general, you should call your WellStar pediatrician if your infant, toddler or child:

  • Is younger than three months of age and has a fever
  • Has a sore throat that does not go away with the morning's first drink
  • Has difficulty swallowing
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Drools excessively (young children)
  • Has a temperature higher than 100.4°F (36°C)
  • Has pus on the back of the throat
  • Has a rash
  • Has blood in the saliva or phlegm
  • Shows symptoms of dehydration (dry, sticky mouth, sleepiness, thirst, decreased urination, few or no tears when crying, muscle weakness, headache, dizziness or light-headedness
  • Has had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with strep throat and is still exhibiting symptoms
  • Has recurring sore throats

Risk Factors

Your child is at a greater risk for sore throat under these conditions:

  • Excessive coughing or yelling
  • Exposure to illness through babysitters, daycare workers, other caregivers, or other children
  • Recent travel that could have exposed your child to possible illness
  • Exposure to someone with strep throat who hasn’t been on an antibiotic for at least 24 hours
  • Low humidity
  • Exposure to allergens, air pollution, or second-hand smoke