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Pharyngitis in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is pharyngitis?

Pharyngitis, or sore throat, is inflammation of the tissues and structures in your child's pharynx (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).

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 or her throat but does not have symptoms. Germs are easily spread in schools, daycare centers, work, and at home.

What signs and symptoms may occur with pharyngitis?

  • Pain during swallowing, or hoarseness
  • Cough, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes
  • A rash
  • Fever and headache
  • Whitish-yellow patches on the back of the throat
  • Tender, swollen lumps on the sides of the neck
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain

How is pharyngitis diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms. Your child's provider may look into your child's throat and feel the sides of his or her neck and jaw.

  • A throat culture may show which germ is causing your child's sore throat. A cotton swab is rubbed against the back of your child's throat.
  • 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's sore throat should start to feel better in 3 to 5 days for both viral and bacterial infections. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Antibiotics treat a bacterial infection.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my child's pharyngitis?

  • Have your child rest as much as possible.
  • Give your child plenty of liquids so he or she does not get dehydrated. Give your child liquids that are easy to swallow and will soothe his or her throat.
  • Soothe your child's throat. If your child can gargle, give him or her 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 or her throat lozenges to help decrease 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 or her 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 or she is still contagious. Ask your child's healthcare provider how long your child is contagious. Do not let your child share food or drinks. 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?

Your child may return to daycare or school when his or her symptoms go away.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child suddenly has trouble breathing or turns blue.
  • Your child has swelling or pain in his or her jaw.
  • Your child has voice changes, or it is hard to understand his or her speech.
  • Your child has a stiff neck.
  • Your child is urinating less than usual or has fewer wet diapers than usual.
  • Your child has increased weakness or fatigue.
  • Your child has pain on one side of the throat that is much worse than the other side.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child's symptoms return or his symptoms do not get better or get worse.
  • Your child has a rash. He or she may also have reddish cheeks and a red, swollen tongue.
  • Your child has new ear pain, headaches, or pain around his or her eyes.
  • Your child pauses in breathing when he or she sleeps.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.