Understanding & Treating Sore Throat in Babies and Toddlers

While a sore throat is the most common childhood complaint, it can become very frustrating for babies, toddlers and their parents. It can be accompanied by crying, crankiness, tiredness, an inability to eat or talk properly, and even breathing problems.


A sore throat is a visitor that is never welcome.


While in general, it is not a very serious complaint, it is important to know more about what causes it, and how to take care of your child when they are suffering from one.

What is Sore Throat?

Sore throat is a common condition that affects people all around the world, including babies. It is the feeling of uneasiness in the throat because the mucous lining is inflamed or aggravated. Babies who are affected with sore throats generally cough a lot and will be in a very cranky and upset mood because of this.

Throat Infection in Babies and Toddlers

A sore throat in infants and babies is one of the most common childhood ailments. Its causes can be many, but it is mainly attributed to a common cold or flu virus attacks. Other more serious illnesses like measles, chickenpox and croup – all viral conditions – can also cause a sore throat.

Whooping cough is a less common cause of throat irritation.

In most of these illnesses, there is bacterial or viral baby throat infection which primarily or secondarily irritates the mucous lining of the throat and upper respiratory tract. Babies frequently contract a sore throat during teething, an attack of thrush, gingivostomatitis (combination of gingivitis and stomatitis), or hand, foot, and mouth disease.

A throat infection in infants can also be caused by allergies triggered by pollen from plants and flowers, smoke at home (both cooking fumes and tobacco), dust mites, and cat or dog dander. This condition is called allergic rhinitis.

When a child is suffering from a sore throat, he can find it difficult to swallow and experience pain and a scratchy sensation in the throat. He may also sore and swollen lymph glands under the hinge of the jaw, swollen tonsils with redness, white patches or pus and/or a hoarse throat.

Is Sore Throat Contagious?

This generally depends on the cause of the sore throat. If a sore throat is caused by teething or if the baby has gingivostomatitis, thrush, or hand, foot, and mouth disease, it is less likely to be contagious.

A sore throat caused by allergies is also not contagious, though the other members of the family may be equally sensitive to the same allergens as the baby and can suffer allergic symptoms at the same time. In most cases, however, they do not contract it from the baby.

If the cause is a bacterial or viral infection, the sore throat can definitely be contagious. The contagion can spread by way of contact with infected mucous and can be transmitted from person to person. Mucus, nasal discharge as well as saliva contain viruses or bacteria which can cause sore throat. Activities like kissing the baby, handling the baby or wiping the baby’s nose and not washing your hands afterwards can spread the contagion.

Young children living with the baby are more susceptible to contracting the infection. Adults in general are less susceptible to contracting a sore throat from their baby since their immune response has already handled the infection that the baby is suffering from. It is important to clean objects like towels, brushes and clothing after the illness so that the infected matter does not linger and attack again.

Symptoms of Sore Throat in Babies

A throat infection in babies and toddlers is, in general, a symptom of an underlying infection or bodily reaction that is triggering it. The sore throat has a few characteristic symptoms which can help a parent to narrow down the source of the infection.

  • An inability to feed: In babies, the sore throat will cause an inflammation of the mucous membranes, and swallowing food and even saliva will cause irritation and pain. The baby may cry and refuse to feed even when hungry, due to the pain
  • Redness of the throat: The mucous lining of the throat may be inflamed. This is difficult to observe in babies and infants. Toddlers can be led to a bright place and asked to open their mouth to see the condition of the throat, and determine whether there are any more symptoms like sores, yellow coating on the tongue and swollen tonsils, all of which can indicate specific ailments which are causing the sore throat
  • Swollen lymph glands: An infectious sore throat may present with swollen lymph glands, a sign that the body is fighting the infection
  • Irritable and restless child: The infection and the inability to feed make the baby irritable and restless. The irritability and restlessness is frequently compounded by lack of sleep and hunger
  • Fever: Depending on the infection which causes the sore throat, fever in varying degrees may be present
  • Bad breath: The baby, unable to feed without pain, will have a dry mouth and consequent bad breath. This is noticed more in cases of gingivostomatitis, thrush, or hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • The strep throat symptoms in toddlers are red and white patches in the throat and enlarged tonsils. This leads to difficulty in swallowing. There may be a fever, tender or swollen glands lymph nodes, headache, and a pain in the stomach

Causes of Sore Throat in Babies and Toddlers

There is a host of reasons for your little one’s sore throat. The most common reasons are:

  • Common Cold: Common or not, when your child has a cold, it can be miserable in the week that it visits. A stuffy nose, sore throat, phlegm in the throat and nose, headaches and fever – usually under 101 F – all contribute to the general malaise and irritation of this attack on the respiratory tract
  • Flu: A flu attack, is, in general, more serious than a cold, and the child may develop a high fever, have mucous running from the nose and throat, headaches, and body and muscle pains. The fever and muscle aches usually last only the first 2 to 4 days, but the attendant cough and tiredness can continue for up to a week or more
  • Strep throat: This is a common bacterial infection which babies and toddlers are susceptible to, the symptoms of which include inflammation, redness and swelling in the throat and tonsils. This condition can be painful and makes eating, swallowing and talking difficult
  • Viral Infections: Chicken pox, croup, measles, gingivostomatitis, and hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) are all viral infections that can affect a baby or a toddlerThese infections vary in their contagiousness, and their symptoms include:
    • Red spots and blisters around the baby’s mouth and in the throat
    • Rashes on the baby’s hands and feet
    • Red spots or rashes on the baby’s hips and other private parts
    • Irritation
    • Inability to feed in spite of hunger

Since these symptoms may indicate an infection which is difficult to treat without medical advice, it is better to see a doctor if they are present.

  • Allergies: The nascent immune response of the baby can frequently take umbrage at common pollutants like dust, pet dander, smoke, cooking fumes and paint fumes. If the allergic response is extreme, i.e., presenting with visible swelling of the eye, difficulty in breathing and excessive mucous secretion, immediate medical care is required and the child must be kept away from the allergen in the future. A mild allergic response should be accepted as part of the growing pangs of any baby.

Treatment Options

Here are a few remedies for a baby sore throat treatment:

  • Provide nourishment and comfort
  • Seek medical help if additional symptoms like a high fever and earache are also present
  • Offer smaller, more frequent feeds
  • Turn on a humidifier or sit in the bathroom with hot water to make the air warm and humid to soothe the throat irritation
  • Toddlers can be given mouthwashes or warm water with salt or turmeric to gargle with if you’re wondering what to give a child with sore throat
  • Give popsicle throat lozenges to suck on as an effective sore throat treatment for toddlers
  • Sore throat remedies for toddlers can include an anaesthetic or antiseptic throat gargle if the child can be trusted to not swallow it

Diagnosing Sore Throat

Diagnosing a sore throat consists of examining the throat, ear, nose and mouth of the child. If the following symptoms are present the child has a sore throat:

  • If your child is finding it difficult to swallow
  • Has pain and a scratchy sensation in the throat
  • Has sore and swollen lymph glands under the hinge of the jaw
  • Swollen tonsils with redness, white patches or pus
  • A hoarse throat with a scratchy voice, or trouble speaking

Complications of Sore Throat in a Child

In addition to having the symptoms of a sore throat, a few other complications can arise too. It is better to treat a sore throat if it is accompanied with these symptoms so that bacteria do not spread to other parts of the baby’s body.

  • Mouth sores
  • Throat infection along with lots of swelling, red inflammation, flecked with pus
  • Inability to swallow or open the mouth wide
  • Laboured breathing
  • Lack of appetite accompanied by dehydration, excessive drooling and a stiff neck
  • More than usual crying, irritability and crankiness

Remedies to Relieve Pain

  • Sore throat remedies for toddlers are generally limited to giving the prescribed dosage of an OTC pain relief and fever-reducing drug for high fevers. This takes care of the discomfort and pain and resultant crankiness, while giving the body time to fight the infection and recover
  • Home remedies for throat infection in babies and toddlers are rest and hydration. Giving them extra warm fluids will thin the mucus and help it to drain. It will also ease the sore throat
  • Drinking warm and light soups provides nutrition while easing the pain of the sore throat
  • Those wondering what to give a child with a sore throat can try home remedies for throat infection in babies like a small amount of tulsi crushed with honey or some herbal teas with ginger, pepper, turmeric, honey and lemon

Prevention of Sore Throat

A sore throat can be avoided by following these precautions:

  • Washing hands regularly, especially after sneezing, coughing, and coming in contact with infected material
  • Not going to a space where the infection is common
  • While babies cannot avoid contact with infected primary caregivers, the caregivers can practice better hygiene to minimize the exposure as well as avoid contact with people who have sore throats
  • A sore throat can be avoided by not sharing spoons, glasses and towels with infected people

Is Sore Throat an Emergency?

A sore throat can be an emergency if it is accompanied by:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Shortness of breath, panting
  • A fever higher than 100.4 degrees for children younger than 3 months and higher than 102.2 degrees for children older than 3 months
  • A cough with traces of blood in the sputum
  • A muffled voice
  • Inability to open his or her mouth all the way
  • Swelling on one side of the throat (this can indicate an abscess in the tonsils)

When to See the Doctor

The correct time to see the doctor is when any of the above symptoms are present along with a sore throat, so that any serious health condition is not allowed to spread. Even if no serious underlying issues are detected, a doctor can take some measures to give the child temporary relief from the symptoms.

Conclusion: A sore throat isn’t something to lose your head over, despite the imminent days of suffering for your child. Ensure that it does not spread. Try to keep the child as comfortable as possible during this phase. By taking care of their immune systems, you can ensure future incidents of sore throat do not occur.