A baby’s sore throat can be painful. The baby may cry in pain, making the throat hurt even more. Treatments for soothing a baby’s sore throat include pain medication and nasal suction.
In this article, we explore various methods to soothe a baby’s sore throat, how to administer pain relief, and when to see a doctor.
Often, it is difficult to know if a baby has a sore throat. Common symptoms in an infant can include fussiness and a lack of appetite.
Other illnesses, such as colds or ear infections, may or may not cause the throat to hurt. And sometimes, there will be no obvious visible symptoms. For example, colds can trigger a sore throat without any redness or swelling in the throat.
However, several options may soothe a baby’s sore throat, including home remedies and pain medication.
Many home remedies could help ease sore throat pain in babies, some of which are listed below.
In babies who breastfeed, nursing may help ease pain. Numerous studies have documented the pain-relieving effects of breastfeeding. It may also stop a baby from crying and irritating their throat.
Breastfeeding babies may want to nurse more when they are sick. If possible, nurse them on demand, as often as they wish.
Babies with sore throats may be congested. Congestion causes them to cough, which further irritates the throat. Humidity can help break up this congestion, and may ease the pain. A person can place a cool mist humidifier in the room where the baby sleeps or spends most of their time.
A steamy shower can also help. A person can run a hot shower with the door closed to fill the place with steam, then sit in the room with the baby. The room should be warm and steamy, but not so hot that the baby or caregiver is uncomfortable.
Post-nasal drip occurs when congestion from the nose drains down the back of the throat. This can cause the baby’s throat to feel scratchy and irritated, and may also make the baby cough.
If a baby has a stuffy nose, people can use a bulb syringe to help clear it. To make the suction more effective, they can spray or apply saline solution drops in the baby’s nose beforehand. It is important not to use prescription nasal sprays or over-the-counter (OTC) sprays that contain decongestants, steroids, or pain medicine.
Caregivers can make a saline spray by mixing 1 quarter teaspoon of salt with 1 cup of warm water.
Depending on their age, babies can take some pain medications.
If the baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever, caregivers should call a doctor before they give them medication.
People should follow the instructions on the label carefully. Manufacturers assign dosages for babies based on weight, so caregivers should weigh their baby, or make sure they have a recent weight from a healthcare professional.
Pain medication will not treat an underlying infection, and a baby will still be contagious, even if medicines break their fever, so people should keep infants at home.
Some home remedies are not suitable to soothe a baby’s sore throat. These include:
Honey, table food, and water
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that honey may help older children with a sore throat. However, caregivers should not give honey to babies younger than 12 months, as there is a risk of botulism.
According to UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), unless a doctor recommends otherwise, people should not give table food or water to babies under 6 months old. They should only receive breastmilk or formula.
Caregivers can also reduce the risk of dehydration by nursing or giving bottles more often. Young babies’ bodies are not yet ready for food or water.
Decongestants and cough medicine
Decongestants and cough medicines are not safe for young children and babies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these medicines are not safe for children under 4, and they do not relieve pain or coughs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not recommend OTC medicines for infants younger than 2 years old.
Caregivers can use a syringe to give OTC pain medicine to an infant. A baby could suck medicine from the syringe, similar to how they nurse or feed with a bottle.
People should never give adult medications or crushed-up tablets to babies.
Some babies may take medicine in a bottle, and people can add this to their formula or breastmilk bottle if they will not suck the syringe. They should only try this method if they can finish the bottle to get the full dosage.
If a healthcare professional prescribes a baby with antibiotics or other medicines, a person should follow the instructions. If a baby cannot keep down medication, or will not take it, caregivers should call a doctor.
Viruses, such as the common cold, cause most sore throats. Some other potential triggers include:
- Flu: Symptoms of the flu are similar to a cold, but more severe and tend to last longer.
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease: This usually begins with cold-like symptoms, such as a sore throat or fever. Babies then get a rash on their hands, mouth, feet, or genitals.
- Bacterial infections: Rarely, a baby may have swollen glands, patches in the throat, a fever, or trouble swallowing.
- Tonsillitis: Tonsillitis is a rare condition, with similar symptoms to strep throat. A baby’s voice may also change, and the tonsils at the back of the mouth might look swollen or yellow.
A person should see a doctor if their baby:
- is younger than 3 months old and has a fever
- stops eating or nursing
- has a visible swelling in the back of the throat
- has dark urine
- develops a rash
- seems very sick, or does not get better with home treatment
- does not get better within a few days after they take antibiotics
- has a serious underlying illness, or a weak immune system
If caregivers believe a baby has coronavirus symptoms or possible exposure to COVID-19, they should call a doctor first for advice. However, people should take very ill babies to the emergency room.
Babies should go to the emergency room if they are:
- Showing signs of respiratory distress, such as nostril-flaring, gasping for air, quick breathing, blue lips, fingers, or skin, or pulling in the muscles around the ribs with each breath.
- Younger than 3 months with a fever, and a doctor does not promptly return the call.
- Experiencing a seizure or loss in consciousness.
- Very lethargic, struggling to move, or displaying significant changes in mood or personality.
- Experiencing a high fever that does not break with medication, and seems very ill.
Most sore throats go away on their own within a week. Babies with bacterial infections may need antibiotics. However, antibiotics will not treat viral infections, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis.
The infections that cause sore throats are contagious, so people should practice diligent hygiene to help prevent the spread to others. To prevent infections, people should:
- Keep the baby home at home and urge visitors to stay away until they recover.
- Avoid sick people.
- Wash hands frequently, especially after close contact with the baby or with people who could be sick.
- Disinfect surfaces people often touch, such as the baby’s changing table, counters, and doorknobs.
- Do not leave used tissues, bulb syringes, or other potentially contaminated objects lying around.
A sore throat in babies can be painful. Most infants get better on their own, or with home remedies.
In rare cases of bacterial infections, doctors can prescribe antibiotics, and caregivers should see a healthcare professional if the baby does not improve, or seems very ill.