What causes sore throat?

Sore throat, or pharyngitis, is an infection of the throat (and sometimes the tonsils). It is most commonly caused by bacteria called Streptococcus, which then becomes known as "strep throat." Strep throat can cause severe complications such as rheumatic fever (a disease of the heart valves), so it is important to get treatment for your child right away if he or she has strep throat.

What are the signs and symptoms of strep throat?

How will I know if my child has strep throat?

Your child’s doctor will perform a test called a throat culture to see if the sore throat is being caused by Streptococcus bacteria. In this test, a cotton swab is rubbed across the back of the throat and is sent to a lab for testing. If the results of the strep test are positive (the child has strep throat), the doctor may prescribe antibiotics for your child. Strep throat is spread through contact with saliva and mucus, and is still contagious until antibiotics have been taken for 24 hours.

How should I care for my child if he or she has a sore throat or strep throat?

  • Give your child all medication as instructed by the doctor.
  • Give your child acetaminophen for fever. Do not give your child aspirin.
  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids.
  • Give your child soft or cold foods (like pudding and milkshakes), which may help ease throat pain.
  • Give children over eight years of age warm salt water to gargle (with ¼ teaspoon of salt per glass of water).
  • Give your child throat lozenges or hard candy to suck on (if he or she is older than 4 years of age).

Call the doctor if your child has:

  • A fever after taking antibiotics for two days
  • Increased throat pain
  • Earache
  • A hard time breathing
  • Skin rash
  • Excessive drooling
  • Cough
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dark urine, rash, or chest pain (may occur three to four weeks later)
  • A sore throat that lasts longer than four days

Questions to ask your child’s doctor about sore throat:

  • Should I give my child medication? If so, for how long and how often?
  • How should I store the medication? Should I refrigerate it?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or daycare?
  • Should he or she be limited from certain activities? If so, which ones?
  • Are there certain foods or liquids he or she should have, or avoid?
  • Which over-the-counter pain relievers do you recommend?
  • Which symptoms should I report to you or your office?


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/8/2015…#8274