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Pharyngitis In Children

What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis is swelling or infection of the tissues and structures in your child's pharynx (throat). It is also called sore throat.

What causes pharyngitis?

  • A virus such as the cold or flu virus causes viral pharyngitis. Pharyngitis is common in adolescents who have an illness called infectious mononucleosis (mono). Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

  • Bacteria cause bacterial pharyngitis. The most common type of bacteria that causes pharyngitis is group A streptococcus (strep throat). Adolescents who are sexually active can get a sore throat from gonorrhea or other sexually shared bacteria.

How is pharyngitis spread to other people?

Pharyngitis can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Pharyngitis can also be spread if the person shares food and drinks. A carrier can also spread pharyngitis. A carrier is a person who has the bacteria in his throat but does not have symptoms. Germs are easily spread in schools, daycare centers, work, and at home. Some germs that cause pharyngitis may be passed between adolescents who are sexually active.

What other signs and symptoms may occur with pharyngitis?

  • Pain during swallowing, or hoarseness

  • Cough, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes

  • A rash on his body

  • Fever and headache

  • Whitish-yellow patches on the back of his throat

  • Tender, swollen lumps on the sides of his neck

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain

How is pharyngitis diagnosed?

Your child's caregiver will ask about your child's symptoms and examine him. He may look into your child's throat and feel the sides of his neck and jaw.

  • A throat culture may be done. A cotton swab is rubbed against the back of your child's throat. This test may show if bacteria are causing your child's sore throat and the type of bacteria that are causing it.



  • Blood tests may be used to show if another medical condition is causing your child's sore throat.

How is pharyngitis treated?

Viral pharyngitis will go away on its own without treatment. Your child will need antibiotics if his sore throat is caused by bacteria.

How can I manage my child's pharyngitis?

  • Have your child rest as much as possible.

  • Give your child plenty of liquids so he does not get dehydrated. Give him liquids that are easy to swallow and will soothe his throat.

  • Soothe your child's throat. If your child can gargle, give him ¼ of a teaspoon of salt mixed with 1 cup of warm water to gargle. If your child is 12 years or older, give him throat lozenges to help decrease his throat pain.

  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for your child to breathe and help decrease his cough.

How can I help prevent the spread of pharyngitis?

Wash your hands and your child's hands often. Keep your child away from other people while he is still contagious. Ask your child's caregiver how long your child is contagious. Do not let your child share food or drinks, especially while he is taking antibiotics. Do not let your child share toys or pacifiers. Wash these items with soap and hot water.

When should my child return to school or daycare?

If your child has started antibiotics, ask his caregiver when he may return to school or daycare. If your child is not on antibiotics, his symptoms such as fever or sore throat may go away on their own. Your child may return to daycare or school when his symptoms go away.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

  • Your child has throat pain, trouble swallowing, fever, or other symptoms that are not getting better or are getting worse.

  • Your child has a rash on his body. He may also have reddish cheeks and a red, swollen tongue.

  • Your child has new ear pain, headaches, or pain around his eyes.

  • Your child snores or pauses in his breathing when he sleeps.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child suddenly has trouble breathing or turns blue.

  • Your child has swelling or pain in his jaw area.

  • Your child has voice changes, or it is hard to understand his speech.

  • Your child has a stiff neck.

  • Your child has not urinated in 12 hours and is weak and tired.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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