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Sore Throat in Children: Care Instructions

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

Your Care Instructions

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 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.
  • If your child is old enough to do so, have your child gargle with warm salt water at least once each hour to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Use 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of salt mixed in 1 cup (250 mL) of warm water. Most children can gargle when they are 6 to 8 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.
  • Try an over-the-counter anesthetic throat spray or throat lozenges, which may help relieve throat pain. Do not give lozenges to children younger than age 4. If your child is younger than age 2, ask your doctor if you can give your child numbing medicines.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids. Warm drinks may ease throat pain. Frozen ice treats, ice cream, scrambled eggs, gelatin dessert, and sherbet can also soothe the throat. If your child has kidney, heart, or liver disease and has to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids your child drinks.
  • 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 he or she is, 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?

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