Sore throat in infants is often caused by a viral infection like the common cold. The main symptoms of a cold are nasal congestion and a runny nose. These may be in addition to the sore throat symptoms you are noticing in your baby.
On average, babies may have up to seven colds in their first year of life as their immune system develops and matures.
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If you suspect your baby has a cold, you may want to consider keeping them home from child care if:
- They have a fever. A good rule of thumb and a rule at most child care facilities is to keep your baby home while they have an active fever and for an additional 24 hours after the fever breaks.
- They seem uncomfortable. If your baby is crying a lot or seems unlike their normal self, consider keeping them home.
If your child attends daycare, you'll want to check the center's policies, too. They may have additional requirements for keeping sick children home.
Infants can experience tonsillitis or inflamed tonsils. Tonsillitis is usually caused by a viral infection.
If your baby has tonsillitis, they may not be interested in feeding. They may also:
- have difficulty swallowing
- drool more than usual
- have a fever
- have a scratchy-sounding cry
Your pediatrician may prescribe infant acetaminophen or infant ibuprofen if needed. If your baby is already eating solids, they’ll need to stick with soft foods.
When deciding if you need to keep your child home from child care, follow the same guidelines for a cold.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by various viruses and is common in children under 5. Symptoms may include a fever, sore throat, and mouth pain. Your baby may have blisters and sores in their mouth, too. These may make it difficult to swallow.
You will likely also see a rash of red bumps and blisters on your baby’s hands, feet, mouth, or buttocks.
Your pediatrician may recommend fluids, rest, and infant acetaminophen or infant ibuprofen if needed.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease are very contagious. Keep your child home from child care facilities until the rash has healed, which may take 7 to 10 days. Even if they are no longer acting as though they are sick after a few days, they’ll continue to be contagious until the rash has healed.
Strep throat is a type of tonsillitis that is caused by a bacterial infection. While it’s uncommon in children under age 3, it’s still a possible cause for sore throat.
Symptoms of strep throat in infants may include fever and very red tonsils. You may also feel swollen lymph nodes on their neck.
If you suspect your baby has strep throat, contact their pediatrician. They can perform a throat culture to diagnose it. They may prescribe antibiotics if needed.
When should you call your baby’s pediatrician?
If your baby is under 3 months, call their pediatrician at the first signs of a sore throat, such as refusing to eat or remaining fussy after eating. Newborns and infants under 3 months don’t have a fully developed immune system, so their pediatrician may want to see or monitor them.
If your baby is over 3 months, call your pediatrician if they have other symptoms in addition to seeming to have a sore or scratchy throat including:
- a temperature over 100.4°F (38°C)
- a persistent cough
- unusual or alarming cry
- isn’t wetting their diapers as usual
- seems to have ear pain
- has a rash on their hand, mouth, torso, or buttocks
Your pediatrician will best be able to determine if you need to bring your baby in to be seen or if you should keep them home and try home remedies and rest. The pediatrician can also advise you on whether your baby should be kept home from child care and for how long they may be contagious.
Always seek emergency medical care right away if your baby is having difficulty swallowing or breathing. You should also seek emergency medical care if they have unusual drooling, which may mean they’re having trouble swallowing.
How to manage a sore throat at home
Some home remedies may be helpful for an infant with a sore throat.
Setting up a cool-mist humidifier in the baby’s room may help ease sore throat symptoms. If your baby has a stuffy nose, the humidifier may help them breathe easier.
Set up the humidifier away from your baby so they won’t touch it, but close enough they can feel the effects. Hot-water vaporizers are a burn hazard and shouldn’t be used. You’ll want to clean and dry your humidifier each day to prevent bacteria or mold from forming. This can make your child ill.
You can use a humidifier until your baby’s symptoms improve, but let your pediatrician know if your baby isn’t getting better after a few days.
Suction (for 3 months to 1 year)
Babies aren’t able to blow their noses. Instead, you can use a suction bulb to suck out nasal mucus. Saline drops may help loosen up the mucus to make it easier to remove it with suction.
Frozen liquids (for older infants)
If your baby has already started solids, you may want to give them a frozen treat to soothe their sore throat. Try giving your baby a formula Popsicle or frozen breast milk in an infant Popsicle mold. Observe them while they try this frozen treat to watch for signs of choking.
Will the baby need medicine?
The treatment for your infant’s sore throat will depend on what’s causing it. If it’s caused by a common cold, your pediatrician will likely not recommend medication unless they have a fever.
You can keep your infant comfortable by setting up a cool-mist humidifier in their room. Offer them plenty of breast or bottle milk. Fluids can help keep your baby hydrated until their symptoms improve.
Antibiotics may be needed if your baby’s sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection like strep. Your pediatrician will be able to diagnose your baby and prescribe antibiotics if needed.
How long will it take for the baby to recover?
If a sore throat is caused by a cold, your baby will likely recover within 7 to 10 days. It may take slightly longer for your baby to recover if the sore throat is caused by hand, foot, and mouth disease, or from tonsillitis or strep throat.
Keep your pediatrician up to date on your baby’s recovery and let them know if the baby’s symptoms don’t improve after several days.
How to prevent a sore throat
It may not be possible to prevent sore throats completely, especially if they’re caused by the common cold. But taking the following measures may help reduce the risk of your little one getting sick again:
- keep your baby away from other infants, siblings, or adults showing signs and symptoms of a cold or sore throat as much as possible
- if possible, avoid public transportation and public gatherings with a newborn
- clean your baby’s toys and pacifiers often
- wash your hands before feeding or touching your baby
Adults can sometimes catch a sore throat or cold from infants. To prevent this, be sure to wash your hands often. Teach everyone in your household to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm, or into a tissue that’s then tossed out.
Keep an eye on the baby’s symptoms and report them to your pediatrician. They’ll be able to help you figure out if you need to take your baby to a doctor’s office or clinic to be checked out, or if you should keep them home to rest.
In most cases, your baby will recover within 7 to 10 days. You may need to keep them home from child care facilities for some of this time. Check with your care provider and your child’s pediatrician to find out how long the baby should be kept home. This may include keeping baby home from other activities, too, like baby and me classes.
Once your baby is fully recovered and back to their smiling self, you can resume all day-to-day activities — from walks to the park to playing with siblings.
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Written by Alexey