Cincinnati Family Magazine

Your # 1 Hometown Family Resource

July 23, 2024

Sore Throat Culprits

Your child wakes up with a sore throat and it starts: you try to figure out what's going on. Is it the change of season, or something more?

It can be confusing and leave you feeling icky trying to decide what is causing your kids’ frequent sore throats — especially during these fall and winter months. Could it mean a trip to the doctor? Hold the phone – more factors come into play when it comes to kids’ sore throats.

Nurse Practitioner, Alyse Knapp, with Mercy Health – Southwest Schools Community Clinic at Harrison High School, says there are many reasons your kids can be waking up with a sore or scratchy throat, and it’s not always viral.

“Particularly in the fall and winter, when the heat is turned on in your home, kids can wake up with a sore throat,” Knapp says. “When we sleep, we naturally produce less saliva. When we do not have as much saliva to help moisten our mouths and throat and we add the dry air from the heating, we can wake up in the mornings with some throat irritation.”

Sore throats can also be caused from smoke exposure, gastric reflux, allergies, viruses or bacteria, she continues. How does a frustrated parent decipher the cause of it all? Begin by asking your kids questions such as: How bad does your throat hurt? Is it painful or scratchy? Does your head hurt? Do your ears hurt? Do you have a bellyache? Does your body hurt? Are you extra sleepy today?

Collin Burkart, ear, nose and throat specialist with The Christ Hospital Health Network, says if your kid has a severe sore throat and is not able to tolerate food or liquids – associated with fever and any sort of discoloration of the throat — this is when it’s time to call the doctor.

“Other symptoms that suggest seeing a doctor quickly would be systemic symptoms such as body aches, chills, muscle aches and or rash,” continues Burkart. “If the child has just a mild sore throat and no fever and no other systemic symptoms, they can try hydration and rest to see if this helps symptoms. If it does not improve, then see a medical specialist.”

Also keep a lookout to see if your kids’ throat is severely swollen, or if they have trouble swallowing or breathing – if this is the case, seek medical attention right away.

Could it Be COVID-19?

To add some more confusion, isn’t a sore throat a symptom of COVID-19? Yes, however, according to Knapp, sore throats only occur in approximately 30 percent of children who are symptomatic with COVID-19. Since with a sore throat comes cough, fever, fatigue, body aches, nasal congestion or runny nose, diarrhea, and an upset tummy, the only way to know if a sore throat is caused by the COVID-19 virus is to be tested, she says.

“It is much more common that a sore throat could be due to the typical reasons that a child gets a sore throat such as the reasons mentioned above,” Burkart adds. “These include allergies, viral causes other than COVID and bacterial infections.”

When in doubt, call your pediatrician.

Common Causes of Sore Throats

A viral infection, including adenoviruses (which typically cause mild cold or flu-like symptoms) and Coxsackie viruses (hand, foot and mouth disease — sometimes causing small blisters in the mouth, making the throat sore — more common in young children), decreases in frequency as they get older, according to Knapp

“It is important to note that viral infections are not treated with antibiotics,” she continues.

Common non-viral conditions include strep throat and, in infants, oral thrush.


Help your kiddos wake up ready to take on their day!

  • Keep up-to-date on vaccinations
  • Keep away from the germs
  • Maintain distance from the sick
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Do not share food or drink utensils
  • Teach kids to not touch their face, eyes or mouth
  • Provide nutritional diets to kids
  • Give kids plenty of fluids
  • Make sure kids get lots of sleep
  • Place a humidifier in bedrooms

Editor Note: If your kids have allergies, talk to your family doctor or pediatrician about appropriate allergy medications.

SOURCE: Knapp and Burkart

About the Author

Amanda Hayward

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and a mom of three with one on the way. If she's not writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.