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What To Do If Your Child Has A Swollen Throat

Tips For Treating A Swollen Throat

Written by Dr. Lina Patel on October 18, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

If your child is having a hard time breathing due to a swollen throat, seek emergency medical help for them immediately.

When your child ends up with a sore, slightly swollen throat, they will likely be feeling very under-the-weather.

A sore throat that comes along with swollen tonsils or glands is most often caused by some form of illness, like a viral or bacterial infection. That said, this kind of sore throat typically goes away when the illness or infection at the root of the problem clears up.
For this reason, it is important to figure out the cause so that the proper plan of treatment can be determined. Different forms of illness are treated in different ways. For example, bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, but viral infections will not respond to antibiotics and thus require a different method of treatment.

Common Causes of a Sore, Swollen Throat

There are plenty of potential causes for a sore and swollen throat, which is why it is so important to pay close attention to your child’s symptoms and consult a doctor if you are unsure of what is causing the problem.

Viral infections, bacterial infections, irritants, and injuries are all possible culprits, and narrowing down the list can help you identify what is causing your child’s discomfort.

When it comes to viral infections, this includes things like:

  • The common cold, which is actually the most common type of viral infection
  • Laryngitis, which is an infection of the voicebox
  • Mononucleosis, also known as mono, can cause a persistent sore throat
  • The flu

If your child has a cold or the flu, they will surely have other symptoms accompanying their sore throat, and you can thankfully relieve their symptoms with some cold medicine.

There are also plenty of bacterial infections that may cause a sore or swollen throat. This includes:

  • Strep throat, which can cause white splotches in the back of the throat and on the tonsils and does not appear alongside congestion or a cough
  • Tonsillitis, which is when the tonsils, and sometimes the adenoids, become inflamed
  • Peritonsillar abscess, which is an infection that impacts the tissues around the tonsils
  • Uvulitis, or inflammation of the uvula in the back of the throat

Irritants and injuries also have the potential to cause a sore or swollen throat. Examples include:

  • Irritation caused by nonallergic rhinitis, which can be triggered b things like tobacco smoke, car exhaust, and air pollution
  • Postnasal drip
  • Breathing through the mouth, especially if your child has allergies
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • An injury to the back of the throat, like a cut or puncture

Now that these common causes have been outlined, you may be able to narrow down the list based on your child’s symptoms. If their sore throat is accompanied by other cold symptoms like congestion, a runny nose, or a cough, they may have a cold, the flu, or another viral infection.

The absence of these kinds of symptoms can help you narrow the list down, too, and may point you in the direction of strep throat. Whenever you are uncertain about what is causing your child’s discomfort, you should consult your pediatrician to gain clarity, get a diagnosis, and have your questions answered.

Tonsillitis: General Overview

If your child’s tonsils specifically are inflamed and swollen, they may have tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils, which are the two oval-shaped pads on either side of the back of the throat, become inflamed typically as a response to an infection or illness. Most times, tonsillitis is caused by some kind of common virus, but occasionally it can happen because of a bacterial infection instead.

Because of this, it is important to take your child to the doctor if you think they have tonsillitis -- while a viral infection will not respond to antibiotics, a bacterial infection will, and if your pediatrician suspects a bacterial infection they may give you a prescription for antibiotics.

The right treatment for tonsillitis wholly depends on what is causing it in the first place, which is why it is essential to go to the doctor and get a proper diagnosis.

Symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White or yellow coating or patches on the tonsils
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing or pain upon swallowing
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Scratchy voice
  • Neck pain or a stiff neck
  • Headaches

If your child is too young to describe their symptoms, you may still notice a few things, like:

  • Increased drooling because they are unable to properly swallow
  • Refusal to eat
  • Fussiness

How You Can Relieve Your Child’s Sore, Swollen Throat at Home

So, you now have a better understanding of all the potential reasons why your kiddo may have ended up with a sore and swollen throat… but how can you bring them the relief they need?

Luckily, there are plenty of home remedies you can try out which may soothe the discomfort associated with sore and swollen throats, regardless of their cause.

Now, that’s not to say you can just use these remedies and skip the doctor’s office. You should absolutely still consult your pediatrician, but these remedies can be used if you cannot get to the doctor right away, or if your doctor has given you medicine but you want to bring your little one some extra relief.

Common home remedies for a sore throat include:

  • Warm liquids: Giving your child warm liquids to sip is a quick and easy way to help relieve the irritation in their throat. For example, warm tea can work wonders, and adding some honey may make this method even more effective. Honey has natural antibacterial properties and can help coat the throat. Make sure to choose herbal tea like chamomile or hibiscus if your child is younger to avoid the caffeine in black, green, and white tea.
  • Cold or frozen liquids: This may sound contradictory because of the first home remedy, but cold liquids or solids can also bring relief. For example, offering your child an ice pop can be a fun and delicious way to soothe their symptoms.
  • Gargling with saltwater: Giving your child warm water with salt and having them gargle with it may help reduce the pain.
  • Throat lozenges: If your child is 4 years old or older, throat lozenges may be a great way to bring them some relief from their sore throat. Just make sure they do not fall asleep with one in their mouth, and stay nearby to ensure that they do not choke.

Rarely, a sore and swollen throat will require prompt medical care. Indications that medical care is needed include:

  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing
  • Refusal to drink liquids
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pus in the back of the throat
  • Sore throat that lasts longer than a few days

Additionally, symptoms that worsen or that do not get better with treatment are a sign that you need to call your pediatrician.

The Bottom Line

If your child has a sore and swollen throat, there is a high chance that it is being caused by some form of illness or infection like a viral or bacterial infection. There are many potential causes for this symptom, and determining the cause is an important part of treating your child’s symptoms appropriately.

Thus, it is vastly important to call your pediatrician if you cannot figure out what the problem is so that a proper diagnosis can be made and your child can be put on the right treatment plan.

In most cases, some over-the-counter medicine and home remedies for relief will do the trick, but if your kiddo’s symptoms do not respond to treatment or start to worsen, this is a sign that it may be something more serious and you should consult a doctor.