What are the signs and symptoms of a sore throat in babies and children?

Some tell-tale signs that your child may have are:

  • Crying
  • Refusing to eat or drink
  • Having other symptoms of a viral infection like a runny nose or cough
  • Swollen neck glands
  • A dry throat
  • Redness in the back of the throat
  • A fever
  • Being less active
  • Pain at the back of the mouth or when they swallow

 What causes a sore throat?

If your child has a sore throat, your next question might be, "What caused it?" A sore throat is often caused by viruses like colds or flu. It can also be caused by bacterial infections but this is less common.

A sore throat can be caused by:


With tonsillitis, the tonsils at the back of the throat become infected. It’s very common in children and is usually caused by a viral infection but it can also be caused by a bacterial infection.

Symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • A sore throat
  • A fever
  • Coughing
  • Being tired
  • Earache
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Headache


Your child could have laryngitis where the vocal cords or vocal box becomes inflamed, swollen and irritated. This can lead to a hoarse voice, sore throat, cough, a loss of appetite and a fever.


Your child could have a cold, and they can have a sore throat for one or two days before showing any other symptoms like a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, fever.


The flu can also be to blame. Like a cold, other symptoms include coughing, fever, being congested, loss of appetite, a runny nose and sneezing.

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is another sore throat suspect. This is a bacterial infection which is a less common cause of sore throat but it is very contagious. Other symptoms include coughing, red eyes, fever and a runny nose.


A sore throat can also be caused by allergies. Being allergic to things like dust, pet hair and pollen can cause congestion, post-nasal drip and eventually, a sore throat.

Glandular fever

This is more common in teenagers, rather than young children.

Strep Throat

This is a bacterial infection which is a less common cause of sore throat.


Croup can also cause sore throats in babies. Symptoms of croup include its characteristic barking cough. Babies will also make a high-pitched noise, called stridor. Other symptoms they may have are fever or runny nose.

See your GP or call NHS 111 if your baby has any of the above symptoms. If your baby's symptoms become severe, they're struggling to breathe or if they can't swallow their saliva or any other liquids, call 999 or rush to the A&E.

 Relieving a sore throat in babies and children

A sore throat will usually go away on its own, but in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help soothe your child.

If your child has pain or fever associated with a sore throat, you can try children’s paracetamol if they’re over 2 months old or if your baby is 3 months old and weighs over 5kg, you can give them ibuprofen like Nurofen for Children

Other ways you can help relieve a sore throat are:

  • Making sure your child stays hydrated
  • Ask a pharmacist for advice on sore throat
  • Letting them rest.
  • For older children sucking on ice lollies or hard sweets
  • Eat cool or soft foods
  • Avoid smoking around your child and avoid smoky places

See your doctor if:

  • Your child often gets a sore throat or they don't improve after a week
  • You child has a high temperature or feels hot and shivery when they have a sore throat
  • Your child has a weakened immune system
  • You're worried about your child
  • You think your child might have a bacterial infection

When to call 999:

  • If your child's symptoms are worsening and are severe
  • If your child is finding it difficult to swallow or breathe (they may be drooling more if they are unable to swallow)
  • If your child is making high-pitched noises as they breathe

Can you protect your child from a sore throat?

It is impossible to completely prevent your baby from getting a sore throat. To reduce the risk of cold and flu that can give your child sore throats, follow these tips:

  • If any friends or family members show signs of having a cold or flu, don’t let them get too close to your child. If you have a cold or flu symptoms, do things like wash your hands before you feed your child, pick them up and touch their toys.
  • Clean surfaces regularly to get rid of germs
  • Throw away used tissues in a bin as quickly as possible
  • If your baby is weaning and eats using their hands, wash their hands before meals

Babies can be protected from a sore throat caused by whooping cough by getting vaccinated. Babies can get their first vaccination when they're 8 weeks old, But the protection your baby gets from being vaccinated will reduce over years.

Remember, a sore throat will usually go away in a few days but if you think your baby has a sore throat and you're worried, take them to your GP.