Pharyngitis is the medical term for redness, pain, and swelling of the throat (pharynx)—often referred to as a sore throat. 

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, the tissue masses on either side of the back of the throat. The tonsils are part of the immune system, the part of the body that fights infection and other disease.

Your child may have either pharyngitis, tonsillitis, or both (pharyngotonsillitis) at the same time.

While viral infections are the most common cause of pharyngitis, tonsillitis can be caused by either viral or bacterial infections. Other causes of these conditions include:

  • Fungal infections, such as in those that cause a yeast infection
  • Allergies, like hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or allergies affecting the nose
  • Sinus infection
  • Cancers
  • Injuries
  • Irritants, like cigarette smoke or air pollution
  • Stomach acids in the throat

It’s important to see your healthcare provider when your child has pharyngitis or tonsillitis because, left untreated, complications can develop. These include:

  • Serious infections in the throat area
  • Dehydration (loss of fluids) from trouble eating and drinking
  • Breathing problems from very large tonsils with tonsillitis
  • Untreated strep throat (a bacterial infection) may lead to heart and kidney problems, middle ear infection, lung infection, or infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord.

Call your child's healthcare provider if your child has:

  • A sore throat, especially if it doesn’t go away in a few days
  • A sore throat and other symptoms, such as a fever

Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number if your child has:

  • Trouble breathing
  • A severe sore throat and has difficulty swallowing or breathing, is drooling, or has a stiff neck or neck swelling

Risk Factors for Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis

Frequent exposure to germs is the major risk factor for getting pharyngitis and tonsillitis.

Viral and bacterial infections are spread by close contact with other people who are sick. As a result, children attending school or daycare are at risk. This is especially true during the winter months, when most viral and bacterial infections occur.

Symptoms of Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis

While symptoms can appear differently in each child, they can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Trouble or painful swallowing
  • Enlarged, painful neck glands
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Ear pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Feeling achy and tired
  • Red or swollen throat
  • Red or enlarged tonsils
  • Throat or tonsils may have a whitish discharge
  • Trouble breathing or snoring

How Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis Are Diagnosed

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child’s current symptoms, check your child's temperature, and do a physical exam, paying close attention to the ears, nose, throat, and tonsils.

  • Depending on your child’s symptoms, the provider may do a throat culture or blood tests
  • Your child may have a rapid strep test. This is a fast test to see if your child has strep throat. It’s important to check for strep throat to treat it promptly and prevent complications.
  • Your child may also have a throat culture and sensitivity. This also checks for strep and helps the provider choose the best antibiotic to treat it. It can take 48 to 72 hours to get the results.
  • Blood work may be done to check for infections like mono (infectious mononucleosis).

How Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis Are Treated

Treatment depends on what’s causing your child’s infection, the symptoms, your child’s age and general health, and how severe the condition is.

If your child has a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed (antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, not viral or fungal infections). If bacteria are not the cause of the infection, treatment will focus on making your child comfortable. This may include:

  • Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen (as a liquid or pills) for pain; other medicines or treatments may be recommended for severe pain
  • Increasing how much your child drinks; some teas have ingredients that soothe the throat
  • Eating smooth, cool foods such as gelatin, ice cream, and ice pops
  • Gargling with salt water (for older kids)
  • Sucking on throat drops, lozenges, or hard candies (for older kids)

Tonsillitis may also require a hospital stay if enlarged tonsils are blocking the airways, making breathing difficult. In some children with recurrent tonsillitis, your healthcare provider may recommend that your child have his or her tonsils removed (tonsillectomy). Your child's healthcare provider will likely refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT).

Why Choose Us to Treat Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis in Children

Cooper’s expert otolaryngologists (ENT specialists) have advanced fellowship training in diagnosing and treating the broad range of conditions that can affect the ears, nose and throat.

They have extensive experience treating routine and complex pharyngitis and tonsillitis in children, and earn consistently high marks when it comes to patient and parent satisfaction.

Should your child require a tonsillectomy, our ENT specialists have the surgical expertise to perform this procedure, with a track record of successful outcomes.

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available in the Division of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.3113