Children and Sore Throats: Winter's Common Ailment

Inflammation of the pharynx is to blame for the majority of the viral infections that cause throat pain.
Children and Sore Throats: Winter's Common Ailment

Last update: 25 July, 2018

Pharyngitis refers to the inflammation of the pharynx, which causes sore throat, irritation, fever and swollen tonsils. Sore throats can be the result of an infection in the pharynx caused by a variety of microorganisms.

In most cases, viruses are to blame for the infections that cause throat pain, including the common cold. In very few cases, sore throats can be the result of a bacterial infection.

The bacteria that causes this sort of illness is called group A streptococcus. This bacteria produces streptococcal pharyngitis – more commonly known as strep throat.

“A bacterial culture will determine whether a virus or bacteria are to blame for a child’s sore throat”

Symptoms of pharyngitis in children

In general, pharyngitis appears during the coldest months of the year, especially during winter. This is when respiratory illnesses come on full force. Pharyngitis is also a contagious illness, which means it spreads easily among family members and classmates. 

So you can be prepared, here’s a list of the main symptoms of pharyngitis:

  • Very sore throat. Your child may have a hard time eating or swallowing. If you observe his or her throat, you’ll see that it’s red and shiny as a result of the illness.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Diagnosing pharyngitis in children

A doctor  will examine your child’s throat to determine if there is drainage. At the same time, he or she will also look for any white or gray patches. The doctor may also observe your child’s skin and eyes and touch his or her neck to check for swollen glands.

If the doctor deems it necessary, he or she may take a swab of your child’s throat to be analyzed. A throat culture and possible blood work can help determine the exact cause of your child’s symptoms.

Treating pharyngitis in children

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can both be useful in reducing fever and relieving throat pain and headache. You can also reduce swelling by having your child gargle warm salt water six times a day. Prepare the remedy by mixing one teaspoon of salt in a glass of water.

In some cases, your child’s pediatrician will recommend consulting a specialist. For example, if your child suffers from repeated episodes of pharyngitis, despite taking antibiotics and following the doctor’s instructions, then a specialist will study the seriousness of the case and determine if surgical intervention is necessary.

If a child has difficulty breathing due to swollen tonsils, this is also a motive for further medical intervention. Swollen tonsils can cause your child to snore and can also lead to obstructive apnea and difficulty swallowing .

Complication of sore throats in children

Other major complications that can result from pharyngitis include rheumatic fever, inflamed kidneys, chorea, and bacteremia (a bloodstream infection). In very rare and extreme cases, pharyngitis streptococcal can lead to toxic shock syndrome.

Severe cases of pharyngitis can produce an obstruction of children’s airways. It’s also possible that your child develops a peritonsillar abscess (PTA) or an retropharyngeal abscess (RPA).

When is medical assistance required?

Your child will likely need medical assistance when throat pain is very strong and persistent. The same is true if your child has a very high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and/or a rash. If your child has difficulty opening his or her mouth or swallowing,  you should seek immediate medical attention. If your child’s skin is dry and spotty, this is another sign you should take him or her in immediately.

Children and Sore Throats

When is surgery necessary?

Many parents ask themselves if their child will need to have his or her tonsils removed. Doctors recommend this type of surgery only when necessary. Priority goes t0 cases where the child doesn’t respond well to medication. The surgery is called a tonsillectomy and the procedure only lasts about 5 minutes.

As you can see, the surgery itself is very quick. But keep in mind that the entire surgical process will take about 30 minutes. In general, children are released the same day.

Just the same, it’s better if your child spends the night in the hospital until the next day. This way, doctors can better observe and evaluate your child.

Here are a few things to keep in mind regarding tonsillectomies:

  • If your child has sutures, then he or she will be able to eat as normal.
  • Avoid hot or very hard foots.
  • Follow a special diet as recommended by your child’s doctor.

Pharyngitis can have serious effects on a child’s health if parents don’t take the necessary steps towards diagnosis and treatment. If your child displays any of the above mentioned symptoms, take him or her to the pediatrician as soon as possible.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.