Causes of Sore Throat in Kids Including Viral Pharyngitis and Strep Throat

Infectious Diseases

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Let’s Explore Causes and Prevention of Sore Throat

Is your kid not eating and drinking? What can be the possible reason? Perhaps your child has a sore throat, viral pharyngitis, or strep throat.  Sore throat is medically known as “pharyngitis. This is the inflammation of the pharynx. Usually, we see viral pharyngitis or sore throat caused by viral infections. Other times we see pharyngitis as a result of a bacterial infection like strep throat.


Causes of Sore Throat

Various reasons are associated with a sore throat in kids. Here are the most common ones:

  • Viral infections- these include the common cold and influenza. Remember, the most important causes of sore throat are viral infections.
  • Bacterial infections- bacterial infections are less likely to cause sore throat compared to viral infections. When caused by a bacterial infection, streptococcal infections are considered responsible for sore throat in kids. This is commonly known as “strep throat’. This bacteria causes more than 600 million cases of acute pharyngitis around the world each year!
  • Dry mouth and postnasal drip can also cause sore throat in kids.
  • Allergies sometimes cause sore throat in kids.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause sore throat in kids. Symptoms of Sore Throat.


Essential key signs and symptoms of sore throat include the following:

  1. Dysphagia- Difficulty in swallowing food or even liquid
  2. Sensation of pain
  3. Redness can be seen in the back of the mouth.
  4. Runny nose, cough, and congestion (it is usually due to a viral infection).
  5. Your child may experience vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps (usually, this happens due to strep throat).



It helps to have an exact way to tell whether a viral or bacterial infection likely causes your child’s sore throat.


Viral Sore Throat

  • Redness of throat due to inflammation
  • Cough is present
  • Runny nose

NOTE: Viruses cause almost 95% sore throats in children younger than five years.


Strep Throat Symptoms

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Rash on the chest called Scarlet Fever


Treatment for viral pharyngitis

If your child has viral pharyngitis, treatment involves lots of fluids, rest, Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen for pain, and honey for children over the age of one. Warm, soothing fluids can help, too, like tea or broth.


Treatment for Strep Throat

On the other hand, bacterial sore throat is managed with the help of antibiotics. See your doctor if you think your child has strep throat. Strep throat antibiotics will be prescribed. Your child will also benefit from pain medicine, rest, and plenty of fluids, as in the case of viral pharyngitis. Remember, antibiotics are only useful in strep throat and other bacterial infections and will help prevent strep throat complications such as Scarlet Fever and Rheumatic Fever. Antibiotics don’t work in viral infections as viruses don’t respond to antibiotics.



Seek medical attention from a registered medical practitioner when your child has the following signs and symptoms:

  1. Difficulty in breathing
  2. Dysphagia – difficulty in eating and swallowing
  3. High fever or persistent fever > 3 days
  4. If your child is less than six months
  5. Severe vomiting
  6. Neck stiffness
  7. Decreased level of consciousness



What kind of medicine shall I give to my kid with a sore throat?

Try giving your kid a soft diet. Avoid acidic, salty, and spicy food items. It is better to provide honey and warm soup to soothe his/her throat.

Can I give antibiotics to my kid with a sore throat? 

You need to be sure of the diagnosis first. Whether this sore throat is due to bacteria or viruses determines the best treatment options. Don’t use antibiotics if your kid has a viral sore throat. Misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and other harmful complications.

Does honey work in the viral sore throat?

Yes, it does. Honey has antiviral properties and soothes the throat. DO NOT give honey to a baby less than one year of age due to the risk of botulism.

Can mononucleosis cause sore throat in children?

Yes, mononucleosis is also a common cause of sore throat in children. It is a viral infection caused by Epstein Barr Virus.



Dr. Dina Kulik

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