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What are pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

Pharyngitis and tonsillitis are infections that cause inflammation and soreness in the throat. When the pharynx, between the tonsils and the voicebox, is affected, its called pharyngitis, and when the tonsils are affected it’s called tonsillitis. If your child has inflammation of both the pharynx and the tonsils, its called pharyngotonsillitis.

These viral or bacterial infections most often occur in the winter and colder months, and when your child Is in close contact with other people. Nearly all children will have pharyngitis and tonsillitis at some point during their childhood.

Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

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, while for others, symptom onset is slow. There are several common symptoms, but each child may experience pharyngitis and tonsillitis differently.

Symptoms may include:

  • sore throat
  • fever (either low grade or high)
  • headaches
  • decrease in appetite
  • not feeling well
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach aches
  • painful swallowing

What causes pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

There are many causes for infections in the throat, including viruses, bacteria, fungal and parasitic infections, and cigarette smoke.

Common viruses include:

Common bacteria include:

Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis | Diagnosis & Treatments

How are pharyngitis and tonsillitis diagnosed?

In most cases, it is hard to distinguish between a viral sore throat and a strep throat based on a physical examination. It is very important to know if the sore throat is "strep," caused by group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS), because it will require antibiotic treatment to help prevent the complications associated with these bacteria.

As a result, when children have the symptoms associated with strep, they will receive a strep test and throat culture to determine if the infection is caused by GABHS. This usually involves a throat swab called quick tests or rapid strep tests in the physician's office.

This may immediately become positive for GABHS and antibiotics will be started. If it is negative, part of the throat swab will be kept for a throat culture. This will further identify, in two to three days, if there is any GABHS present. Your child's physician will decide the treatment plan based on the findings

What are the treatment options for pharyngitis and tonsillitis?

Treatment for infections in the throat may include:

  • acetaminophen (for pain)
  • increased fluid intake
  • throat lozenges
  • antibiotics (if the cause of the infection is bacterial, not viral)

If bacteria are not causing the infection, then the treatment is focused on comfort for your child. Antibiotics will not help treat viral sore throats.

How we care for pharyngitis and tonsillitis

The Boston Children's Hospital Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Enhancement is the oldest, largest, and one of the most recognized centers for pediatric otolaryngology in the U.S. Our team specializes in caring for infectious and inflammatory conditions of the ear, nose, and throat, including pharyngitis and tonsillitis. Because our focus is children, we have the experience and expertise to offer the very best treatment.

Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis | Programs & Services