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Sore throat in children

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

A sore throat is a pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that often worsens when your child swallows. It may come out of the blue if they’re fighting a viral or bacterial infection, and they may also experience cold symptoms like a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, a fever, coughing, headache, and they may complain of pain on swallowing. You might be able to feel the glands in their neck are enlarged and these can feel quite tender to touch.

If you look in the back of their throat, you might see one or both tonsils are large and red, causing the gap between them to reduce, and you may notice some white spots on the tonsils.

Doctor’s advice

What causes a sore throat? 

The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection such as a cold or flu. Other causes can be due to:

  • bacterial tonsilitis
  • pharyngitis
  • swollen neck glands
  • sore throat in the aftermath of an infection
  • swallowing something that has scratched, like crisps or a foreign object
  • breathing through the mouth when sleeping.
  • screaming or forceful vomiting
  • allergies
  • environmental factors like dry air, exposure to smoke
  • postnasal drip mucus from the nose dripping down the throat secondary to an infection.
  • tonsil stones - small, hard deposits in the tonsils.
  • irritants - breathing through the mouth, excessive talking or shouting.

How long does it last in children?

It usually takes between 7 and 10 days for your child to clear any infection and a sore throat to resolve. It should be getting better during that time. If it lasts any longer, it’s worth speaking to a doctor.

Pharmacist recommended products

Children's sore throat Kit (for under 6 years old).
Effective relief for
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Relieves dry tickly cough
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Soothes sore throat
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Blackcurrant flavour
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Reduces fever
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Relieves pain.
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Reduces fever & pain
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Reduces swollen glands
More info
Recommended by pharmacist
Why this Health Kit

Winter infections are very common in children, and the vast majority of coughs, colds or sore throats are often viral in cause.

This Kit can help relieve a dry or sore throat, associated fever or swollen glands and provides pain relief for your little ones.

A dry cough can often lead to a sore throat and associated pain due to repetitive coughing to clear the throat. Tixylix Glycerol Toddler Syrup 3 Months to 5 Years contains glycerol which can act as a demulcent to coat and soothe the tickle at the back of the throat that can often lead to a repetitive cough. It also stops the throat from feeling dry and sore.

Children with a viral sore throat can also experience swollen glands and pain on swallowing along the eustachian tube (between the throat and the ear). Nurofen for children contains Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory that has 3 modes of action. It can reduce pain and swelling due to inflammation and also reduce a fever very quickly.

Calpol Sugar-Free Infant Suspension is also included in this kit to work alongside the Nurofen to help reduce a fever and provide additional pain relief.

Your child should start to feel a lot better within a few days.

If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from a bacterial infection or there are local outbreaks in your child's school, you can still use this kit to help reduce symptoms however, you should also seek local medical advice from your GP, Pharmacist or contact NHS 111

This is especially if:

  • your child is getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher
  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest or feels sweaty
  • your child is very tired or irritable.

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake

How is it treated?

The most important thing with any infection and fever is to keep drinking, stay hydrated, but this can be hard with children, especially if swallowing is uncomfortable. Using a straw may encourage them, and sucking on ice cubes can also be a good way to maintain fluids and keep the area soothed.

In children the best way to manage a sore throat is to give them regular painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and these will also help settle a fever. You can also give them warm honey and lemon drink, to soothe the throat. Honey should not be given to children less than 1 year old as there is a risk of botulinum toxin.

If your child is older, then they may be able to gargle with warm salt water to clear any pus that tastes bad.

Difflam spray can be bought from the pharmacist to help with the pain of a sore throat. Children over 6 years old can have Strepsils, which are sore throat lozenges to help soothe their symptoms.

If the sore throat is suspected to be caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed by their doctor.

When should I take them to the doctor? 

If they are open-mouthed breathing or having other difficulty breathing, or they are drooling, you should seek urgent medical attention via the emergency department.

If you notice very enlarged tonsils or white spots at the back of the throat, you should contact your doctor, and they can assess whether this is a bacterial tonsilitis that may improve with antibiotics.

If their fever is not going down with paracetamol and ibuprofen, they are struggling to drink enough fluids and they are passing very little urine, they may be at risk of dehydration and you should contact their doctor urgently.

In addition, their doctor will want to know if their sore throat has not resolved within 7 days or is getting worse.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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