Sore Throat in Children

A sore throat (pharyngitis) is usually caused by a virus. If your child also has a cough or stuffy nose, the sore throat is most likely because of a cold virus.

The only bacterial cause of sore throats is strep (from group A streptococcus bacteria). A throat culture or rapid strep test might be needed to tell whether your child has strep throat.

Symptoms of a Bacterial Infection

If your child has a severe sore throat or has had a sore throat for more than three days without cold symptoms, call your child's doctor's office. Also call your child's doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:

After medical center hours, contact the Consulting Nurse Service.

When you call, the nurse will ask questions about your child's health and schedule an appointment, if needed. The nurse might ask you to bring your child to the office for a throat culture.

It takes our laboratory 24 to 48 hours to complete the test and to tell if your child has strep throat. Your child's doctor's office or the Consulting Nurse Service will call you if your child needs medicine.


A sore throat caused by a virus can't be cured with medicine. The best thing you can do is to help your child feel more comfortable until the sore throat goes away.

Strep throat, however, is caused by bacteria and is usually treated with an antibiotic. The antibiotic is given to kill the bacteria, prevent complications, and make it less contagious.

To comfort your child:


Most sore throats can't be prevented. Medicine doesn't keep strep throat infections from happening. If your child gets strep throat often, it can mean that further evaluation is needed. Sometimes a member of the family is a carrier of the bacteria without having any symptoms. Cultures might be needed for the entire family.

Clinical review by Emily Chao, DO
Group Health
Reviewed 02/15/2012