Pharyngitis and tonsillitis are infections in the throat that cause inflammation. If the tonsils are primarily affected, it is called tonsillitis. If the throat is primarily affected, it is called pharyngitis. A child might even have inflammation and infection of both the tonsils and the throat. This would be called pharyngotonsillitis. These infections are spread by close contact with other individuals. The majority of pharyngitis cases occur during the winter or colder months.
There are many causes of infections in the throat. Viruses are the most common cause and do not require antibiotics. Treating viral pharyngitis is a common reason for the inappropriate use of antibiotics, which should be used only for bacterial infections. Causes of throat infections include:
Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis)
Herpes simplex virus
Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS)
Haemophilus influenzae type b
The symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis depend greatly on the cause of the infection and the person affected. For some children, the onset of symptoms may be quick; for others, symptom onset is slow. The following are the most common symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Fever (either low- or high-grade)
Decrease in appetite
Not feeling well
Visual redness or drainage in the throat
The symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult a doctor for a diagnosis. If your child's sore throat is severe and includes difficulty swallowing, drooling, or neck swelling, a doctor should be consulted immediately.
In most cases, it is hard to distinguish between a viral sore throat and a strep throat based on physical examination. It is important, though, to know if the sore throat is caused by GABHS, as this requires antibiotic treatment to help prevent the complications associated with these bacteria.
As a result, most children, when they have the above symptoms, will receive a strep test and possibly a throat culture to determine if it is an infection caused by GABHS. This usually involves a throat swab in the doctor's office.
Quick tests, called rapid strep tests, may be performed. This may immediately show as positive for GABHS and antibiotics will be started. If it is negative, part of the throat swab will usually be kept for a throat culture. This will further identify, in two to three days, if GABHS is present. Your child's doctor will decide on the treatment plan based on the findings.
Specific treatment for pharyngitis and tonsillitis will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Cause of the condition
Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
If bacteria are not the cause of the infection, then the treatment is focused on the comfort of your child. Antibiotics will not help treat viral sore throats. Treatment may include:
Acetaminophen (for pain)
Increased fluid intake
Antibiotics (if the cause of the infection is bacterial, not viral)