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Sore Throat

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Your Child's Condition:

Sore throats are caused by viruses or bacteria. Viral sore throats do not need antibiotics to make them better. Sore throats caused by viruses usually last 3 or 4 days. Sore throats caused by bacteria need antibiotics to make the infection go away. Strep is the bacteria that most commonly causes a sore throat.

What you may see in your child:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Pain with swallowing or eating
  • Cough
  • Redness and swelling of the throat or tonsils
  • White patches in the back of the throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • A fine, red rash on the face and body
  • Ear pain
  • Stomach ache

Note: Children too young to talk may have a sore throat if they refuse to eat or drink or begin to cry during feedings.


A throat culture or rapid strep test is the only way to know if a sore throat is caused by a bacteria or a virus. Strep infections can damage the heart and kidneys if not treated.

A course of antibiotics or a one time shot will be needed to treat strep throat. After a child has taken medicine for the strep bacteria for 24 hours, he/she will no longer spread the sore throat to other people. Your child can return to day care or school if his/her fever is gone and he/she is feeling better. It is very important to finish all the ordered doses of the medicine.

Home Care Instructions:

  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) for fever or sore throat pain.
  • Give lots of fluids.
  • Children over 6 years of age can swish warm salt water in their mouth (1 teaspoon of salt per glass).
  • Avoid throat sprays or cough drops.

When to call your child's doctor

  • Your child is not better 2 days after starting antibiotics.
  • Your child's temperature lasts more than 2 days and is 101.5 degrees F or greater.
  • Your child does not seem to be getting better or seems worse.
  • You have any questions or concerns.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 12/06

(757) 668-7000