Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis in Children

What are pharyngitis and tonsillitis in children?

Pharyngitis is redness, pain, and swelling of the throat (pharynx). Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils. The tonsils are a pair of tissue masses on either side of the back of the throat. They are part of the immune system, the part of the body that fights infection and other disease. Your child may have pharyngitis, tonsillitis, or both (pharyngotonsillitis).

What causes pharyngitis and tonsillitis in a child?

Pharyngitis can be caused by many things. Viral infections are the most common cause. Tonsillitis is usually from viral or bacterial infections. Other causes include:

  • Bacteria, such as those that cause strep throat
  • Fungi, such as in those that cause a yeast infection
  • Allergies, like hay fever or allergies affecting the nose
  • Sinus infection
  • Cancers
  • Injuries
  • Irritants, like cigarette smoke or air pollution
  • Stomach acids in the throat

Which children are at risk for pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

Viral and bacterial infections are spread by close contact with other people who are sick. For example, kids attending school or daycare are at risk. This is especially true during the winter months, when most viral and bacterial infections happen.

What are the symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis in a child?

Symptoms can occur a bit 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

The symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are pharyngitis and tonsillitis diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s current symptoms. He or she will check your child’s temperature. The provider will examine your child, 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 is important to check for strep throat to treat it and prevent complications. Your child may also have a throat culture and sensitivity. This also checks for strep and for the best antibiotic to treat it. It takes a few days to get the results. Blood work may be done to check for infections like mono (infectious mononucleosis).