Sore throats are a common childhood illness. Most are not serious and will go away on their own. Sore throats are contagious, meaning they are passed from person to person, and can be caused by different types of germs, such as viruses or bacteria. Symptoms accompanying a throat infection include pain, fever, and swollen neck glands. If there's also a cough or congested nose, it's most likely a viral cause. A virus is the most common cause of a sore throat in children and may be part of a common cold, flu, or mononucleosis. Antibiotics are of no use for viral infections and therefore are not usually given when a virus is suspected.
Certain bacteria can cause sore throats as well. A strep throat means the germ causing the sore throat is a strep bacteria. This may be diagnosed by a strep culture or quick strep test in a doctors office. It is not as likely that another kind of bacteria would cause a sore throat. Antibiotics are very effective for bacterial throat infections.
The tonsils and adenoids are part of the body's immune defense system and are infected when someone has a sore throat. They help protect us against germs entering our nose or mouth. The tonsils are located at the back of the mouth on either side of the back of the tongue. When infected, they usually enlarge, become red, and hurt. Sometimes a whitish discoloration appears on their surface when they're infected. A particularly serious type of tonsil infection is a peritonsillar abscess. This occurs when the tonsil infection forms a collection of pus under the tonsil. These usually require drainage and antibiotics. However, a strep throat or virus may occur even in someone without tonsils. The germ may cause infection of the lining of the throat, causing redness and other symptoms much as in a tonsil infection.
The adenoids are at the back of the throat behind the palate. They are rarely visible by looking through the mouth. Recurring tonsil infections may be due to the tonsils and adenoids harboring germs despite antibiotic treatments.
What To Do
Although most sore throats resolve on their own with no prescription, a doctor visit is necessary when the pain is severe and there's a great deal of difficulty swallowing even liquids. If a child becomes dehydrated because they aren’t swallowing, complications may occur. A fever greater than 101, difficulty breathing, difficulty opening the mouth, blood in the saliva, or drooling are also indicators of the need for a physician's treatment. A sore throat lasting more than 4-5 days should also be evaluated.
For a child who has his/her tonsils and adenoids, and who has frequent infections, a tonsil and adenoidectomy may be helpful. Below are Current guidelines for removal of tonsils and adenoids because of recurrent sore throats:
- 7 throat infections in one year
- 5 throat infections in each of 2 years
- 3 throat infections in each of 3 years
Although the above are specific indicators of the need for surgery, other factors may influence this decision. The severity of the sore throats, the presence of an abscess, high fevers, breathing difficulty with infections, plus other factors may indicate the need for surgery even if the absolute number of infections does not.
The doctors at Advanced Ear, Nose & Throat Care treat conditions or disease in adults, infants and children. Schedule a consultation with one of our specialists if your child is suffering from throat infections. Our offices are located in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield, and Southbury.