At some point in your child’s life, they will experience a sore throat. While allergies and irritations can contribute to a sore throat, viral or bacterial infections are the main causes of a sore throat.

It’s important to learn the difference between viral and bacterial infections to ensure your child receives the correct treatment. Because viral illnesses, like a cold or flu, are the most common cause of a sore throat, it’s best not to use antibiotics to treat them. Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections and the overuse of antibiotics may kill good bacteria and possibly lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in your child.

Viral causes of sore throat can include:

  • Common cold or flu
  • Infection of the voice box (laryngitis)
  • Mononucleosis (mono, "the kissing disease")

Bacterial causes of sore throat can include:

  • Strep throat
  • An inflammation or infection of the tonsils (tonsillitis) or the adenoids (adenoiditis)
  • An infection of the tissues around the tonsils (peritonsillar abscess)

If your child’s sore throat is severe, lasts more than five to seven days and is not associated with an allergy or irritation, seek medical attention for your child.

There are several other symptoms that may indicate a more serious illness. If your child experiences any of the following symptoms, consult your child’s doctor:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Joint pain
  • Earache
  • Rash
  • Fever (over 101°)
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Frequently recurring sore throat
  • Lump in neck
  • Hoarseness lasting more than two weeks
When to See the Specialist

Pediatric ear, nose, and throat disorders are among the most common reasons young children visit a primary care physician. For things like recurrent or chronic ear infections, children can’t get the expert health care they need just by seeing the family doctor. For children with recurring sore throats, it’s important to consult a pediatric otolaryngologist (ENT doctor), who is trained in diagnosing and managing common ENT conditions in children.

While some conditions may be controlled through medications, surgery (usually minimally invasive) is often needed to help stop or lessen the severity of an ear, nose or throat condition.

One of the most common ENT surgeries is a tonsillectomy, which removes the infected and swollen tonsils. Persistent and recurring tonsillitis, sleep apnea and swollen tonsils are common problems that may require a tonsillectomy.

When it comes to ENT surgery for a child, the best choice is a pediatric ENT surgeon – often only found in children’s hospitals. Miller Children’s has a team of otolaryngologists – physicians trained in the medical and surgical management and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose and throat.

Learn more about ear, nose and throat care