When a child's sore throat gets worse

On occasions, sore throats come and go, but an itchy, scratchy sore throat can often be the first sign of a cold. In some cases, what started out as a common sore throat, could warrant a more urgent response and seeing your child’s sore throat becoming worse can be disconcerting and you may need to see a GP.

Difficulty breathing or swallowing or drooling can be signs of more severe health concerns. If your child is suffering from these symptoms, then it warrants emergency action and you should call 999.

If you are unsure whether or not the symptoms your child is experiencing justify keeping them home and visiting your doctor, then learn more from our guide on the symptoms below. If you have any doubts or concern consult your doctor or pharmacist.

Persistent symptoms 

In most cases, symptoms will last up to one week. If your child experiences sore throat symptoms persisting longer than one week or they get sore throats often, you should visit your family doctor.

Get help immediately in case of these sure signs that your child’s sore throat may be developing into something worse.

  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing

Finding it painful to swallow is a common sore throat symptom. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it can be overlooked. If your child complains of finding it difficult to swallow liquids or saliva or they find it hard to breathe, then these alerts indicate there is a more serious underlying cause and you should call 999 urgently.

  • High Fever and Strep throat

High fever (above 38.5°C Celsius or 100.4° Fahrenheit) is a possible sign that you or your child has a bacterial rather than viral infection. This is usually caused by a Streptococcal infection (also known as Strep throat) and it is more common in children aged 5-15 years, particularly during the winter and early spring.

  • Dehydration

For some children it can be difficult to get them to drink enough fluid when they have a sore throat. This can lead to dehydration. A way to keep track of this is to check how much they are drinking or if the lining of their mouth is dry. If they are drinking less than half of what is normal for them then they may be severely dehydrated and should be seen urgently by a doctor.

Keep your child hydrated by giving them plenty of water to drink throughout the day. Staying hydrated also helps soothe a sore throat that could be irritating and bothersome.

Call 999 or see your doctor immediately if symptoms include:

  • Drooling
  • A high-pitched sound as they breathe (called stridor)
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Or symptoms are severe and quickly get worse.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, you may be able to identify if your child has a severe sore throat. It’s always safest to see a doctor for any health problems, so, if you’re unsure about your child’s health, schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

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This information is not intended to diagnose, in case of any doubt please consult your pharmacist or GP.

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