Healthsheet

When Your Child Has Pharyngitis or Tonsillitis

When Your Child Has Pharyngitis or Tonsillitis

Your child’s throat feels sore. This is likely due to inflammation (redness and swelling) of the throat. Two areas of the throat are most often affected: the pharynx and tonsils. Pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx) and tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) are very common in children. This sheet tells you what you can do to relieve your child’s throat pain.

Front view of open mouth showing soft palate at back of roof of mouth and tonsils on either side of pharynx.
Pain or redness can occur in these areas.

What Causes Pharyngitis or Tonsillitis?

Most commonly, pharyngitis and tonsillitis are caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

What Are the Symptoms of Pharyngitis or Tonsillitis?

The main symptom of both conditions is a sore throat. Your child may also have a fever, redness or swelling of the throat, and trouble swallowing.

How Is Pharyngitis or Tonsillitis Diagnosed?

The health care provider will examine your child’s throat. The health care provider might swab (wipe) your child’s throat. This swab will be tested for the bacteria that causes an infection called strep throat. If needed, a blood test can be done to check for a viral infection, such as mononucleosis.

How Is Pharyngitis or Tonsillitis Treated?

If your child’s sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, the health care provider may prescribe antibiotics. Otherwise, you can treat your child’s sore throat at home. To do this:

  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain. Do not use ibuprofen in children younger than 6 months of age or in children who are dehydrated or vomiting all of the time. Don’t give your child aspirin to relieve a fever. Using aspirin to treat a fever in children could cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

  • Give your child cool liquids to drink.

  • Have your child gargle with warm saltwater if it helps relieve pain. An over-the-counter throat numbing spray may also help.

What Are the Long-Term Concerns?

If your child has frequent sore throats, take him or her to see a healthcare provider. Removing the tonsils may help relieve your child’s recurring problems.

Call your child’s health care provider right away if your otherwise healthy child has any of the following:

  • Fever:

    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

    • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39.0°C) or higher

    • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

    • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

    • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Sore throat pain that persists for 2-3 days

  • Sore throat with fever, headache, stomachache, or rash

  • Problems swallowing; drooling

  • Trouble breathing or needing to lean forward to breathe

  • Problems opening mouth fully


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