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Kristina Cappetta

How to Detect and Treat Sore Throat in Babies and Toddlers

Even little ones can get a sore throat. Here’s expert advice on what you can do to help them feel better.

As with all other aches and pains, sore throat in babies is particularly tough to bear—they have no idea what hit them and they can’t even tell you how they feel. But, if you pay close attention, your little one could be giving you signs to let you know what’s going on. Here’s what to look for, as well as what you can do to soothe baby sore throat gently yet effectively.

Baby Sore Throat Causes

Viral infections similar to the common cold are the most common causes of sore throat in babies and toddlers. “Runny noses can give you a dry, irritated throat. The mucus is acidic; when it drips, it can infect the throat and make it painful,” says TJ Gold, MD, of Tribeca Pediatrics in New York City.

In addition, if your baby is congested, he’ll likely leave his mouth open to help him breathe. This can lead to a dry and irritated throat too.

The virus can also infect the mucus membrane, which can lead to an upper respiratory infection and, in turn, a sore throat. Although a sore throat can happen any time of the year, you’re more likely to see it in December, January and February, which is right in line with flu season.

Baby Sore Throat Symptoms

Increased irritability can be a telltale sign of a sore throat in babies and toddlers. He will also not want to eat or drink anything that’s too hot or too cold because it will hurt his throat.

How to tell if a baby sore throat is a more serious infection

Sore throats will usually go away within seven to ten days. “If something more serious than a sore throat is going on, you may see additional signs of distress, such as persistent or forceful vomiting, diarrhea, rash, high fever and, in more severe cases, they may have difficulty breathing or swallowing,” says DeAnn Moore, MD, of the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York. See a doctor right away.

Even without the above symptoms, you should call your pediatrician if the sore throat comes with a fever, advises Ari Brown, MD, and author of the Baby 411 book series. This could be a sign of another infection, such as Coxsackievirus (aka hand, foot and mouth disease), strep and mono.

Sore Throat Remedies for Babies and Toddler

Since viruses are the culprits behind most baby and toddler sore throat, there aren’t any medications that’ll make them go away. For older toddlers with a severe case, your pediatrician may prescribe a pharmacy compound of Benadryl and Maalox. But for the most part, you just need to be patient and let it resolve on its own. In the meantime, try the following to help make your child more comfortable, and, as always, consult your pediatrician before giving any treatments.

  • Make sure baby is staying well-hydrated. If baby is under 6 months, offer him plenty of breast milk or formula; if he’s more than 6 months, you can give him water.
  • Dissolve a bit of throat lozenge in warm water for baby (older than 6 months) to drink—but avoid honey (because of botulism risks in children under 2) as well as cough-suppressant lozenges (because coughing actually helps baby get rid of that pesky mucus), Gold says. Obviously, remove the hard lozenge before feeding the drink to baby.
  • Give baby a few small sips of chamomile tea (if baby is over one year old).
  • Encourage regular meals for children old enough to eat solid foods, but avoid anything spicy, acidic or rough in texture.
  • Use a humidifier in his room. This will prevent the air from becoming too dry.
  • Give a pain reliever like Tylenol (check with your pediatrician for appropriate age & dosage).

Updated December 2017

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