Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis in Children

Pharyngitis and tonsillitis are infections that cause inflammation and soreness in the throat. The pharynx is the membrane-lined cavity behind the nose and mouth between the tonsils and the voicebox. 

When the pharynx is infected, it is called pharyngitis. When the tonsils are infected, it is called tonsilitis. Pharyngotonsillitis occurs when a child has inflammation of both the pharynx and the tonsils.

What causes pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

These viral or bacterial infections most often occur in the winter and colder months and when your child is in close contact with other people. 

Nearly all children will have pharyngitis and tonsillitis at some point during their childhood.

Infections in the throat include viruses, bacteria, fungal and parasitic infections.

Common bacterias include:

  • group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS)
  • Neisseria gonorrhea
  • Haemophilus Influenzae Infections
  • mycoplasma

What are the symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis in Children?

Symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis depend significantly on the cause of the infection. In children, the onset of symptoms may be quick, while for others, symptom onset is slow. There are several common symptoms, but each child may experience pharyngitis and tonsillitis differently.

Symptoms of pharyngitis or tonsillitis include:

  • sore throat
  • fever (either low grade or high)
  • Headaches
  • decrease in appetite
  • not feeling well
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach aches
  • painful swallowing

How are pharyngitis and tonsillitis diagnosed?

In most cases, it is hard to distinguish between a viral sore throat and a strep throat based on a physical examination. If the sore throat is “strep,” caused by group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS) will require antibiotic treatment to help prevent the complications associated with these bacteria.

Children with symptoms associated with strep receive a strep test and throat culture to determine if GABHS causes the infection. 

What are the treatment options for pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

Treatment for infections in the throat includes:

  • acetaminophen (for pain)
  • increased fluid intake
  • throat lozenges
  • antibiotics for a bacterial infection

If bacteria are not causing the infection, then the treatment is focused on comfort for your child. Antibiotics will not help treat viral sore throats.

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