Wellness & Education

What to do when your child has a sore throat

It’s always concerning when your child gets sick and you can’t tell whether or not it’s serious. You don’t want to rush to the doctor if there is no need. You also don’t want to put off a trip to the doctor is your child needs help. One of the most confusing illnesses children can get is a sore throat. It may be serious. It may not. How parents know what to do?

Here are three questions parents often ask:

Question One

When a child gets a sore throat, the first concern for many parents is, “Is it strep throat?”  

This is a valid concern, given the serious consequences of leaving strep throat (caused by the streptococcus bacteria) untreated. The good news is that most sore throats in children are caused by viruses, not strep.  

A viral sore throat: 

  • Doesn’t require an antibiotic.  
  • Will usually get better on its own in a week to ten days.  
  • Usually causes only a mild illness.  
  • May only cause a low fever or no fever at all. 
  • May or may not be accompanied by a cold. 
  • May or may not cause swollen tonsils  

Strep throat, on the other hand 

  • Must be treated with an antibiotic 
  • Will not get better on its own 
  • Can cause more painful symptoms, including: =
    •  pain when swallowing 
    •  swollen tonsils, lymph nodes and throat 
    • a fever 
  • Can cause serious longterm illness if left untreated. 

Question Two 

The second question parents have when their child has a sore throat is, “When is it time to see our healthcare provider?”  

If the following symptoms occur, it’s time to seek help.  

  • Your child has a fever of 102 degrees or higher and ibuprofen or acetaminophen aren’t making it go down and stay down between doses. 
  • Your child has stopped drinking or is drinking very little. 
  • Swallowing is painful to the point that your child is drooling rather than swallowing. 
  • Your child is having difficulty staying awake or being woken up. 
  • Your child is in severe pain. 
  • Your child’s neck is stiff. 
  • Your child is having trouble breathing or is breathing “funny”. 
  • You child has a headache or stomach ache

Once you take your child in to be seen, you should know that no one can tell, just by looking at a sore throat, whether it is caused by a virus or by the streptococcus bacteria.  Only a lab test can determine if your child has strep. If it is not strep, your healthcare provider will assume it is a virus and treat it accordingly. 

Question Three

Before leaving the office, one final question many parents ask themselves is, “Is my child going to get an antibiotic?”  

While it may seem wrong for your child to be sent home without an antibiotic, if your child has a virus, an antibiotic will not helpTaking an antibiotic when it isn’t needed can eventually cause the antibiotic to stop working, or to not work as well.  

When your healthcare provider doesn’t prescribe an antibiotic for a virus, it is because he or she is trying to make sure that antibiotics WILL work at a later time, for a different illness, when your child actually needs them. While this may be frustrating for parents, it’s important to trust your healthcare provider to know when your child does and does not need an antibiotic.