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Sore Throat in Children: Care Instructions

Open mouth, showing throat, tonsils, tongue, and teeth.

Overview

Infection by bacteria or a virus causes most sore throats. Cigarette smoke, dry air, air pollution, allergies, or yelling also can cause a sore throat. Sore throats can be painful and annoying. Fortunately, most sore throats go away on their own.

Home treatment may help your child feel better sooner. Antibiotics are not needed unless your child has a bacterial strep infection, such as strep throat caused by streptococcal (strep) bacteria.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Have your child gargle with warm salt water several times a day to help reduce swelling and relieve pain. Mix ½ teaspoon (2.5 g) of salt in 1 cup (250 mL) of warm water. Most children can gargle when they are 6 years old.
  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Children over 6 years old can try sucking on lollipops or hard candy.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids. Drinks such as warm water or warm soup may ease throat pain. Cold foods like Popsicles and ice cream can soothe the throat.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house. Smoke irritates the throat.
  • Place a humidifier by your child's bed or close to your child. This may make it easier for your child to breathe. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child is confused, does not know where they are, or is extremely sleepy or hard to wake up.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a new or higher fever.
  • Your child has a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your child has any trouble breathing.
  • Your child cannot swallow or cannot drink enough because of throat pain.
  • Your child coughs up discoloured or bloody mucus.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child has any new symptoms, such as a rash, an earache, vomiting, or nausea.
  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter V819 in the search box to learn more about "Sore Throat in Children: Care Instructions".

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.