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Sore throat

Red symptoms

Amber symptoms
Green symptoms
How long will your child’s symptoms last?
Where to seek help
Useful links


Sore throats are extremely common and are often associated with a high temperature. 

Information on how to take your child’s temperature is available here.

  • Most sore throats are caused by viral infections – if this is the case, your child is likely to also have a runny nose, cough or earache.
  • If several people are unwell in the same household, this also suggests a viral infection (viral infections are easily spread).
  • You do not need antibiotics to treat viral infections.

Watch a GP and health visitor talking about what they would look out for in a child with a sore throat:

Courtesy of Healthier Together

Red Symptom image


Check if your child has any red symptoms:
  • Your child is going blue around the lips.
  • Becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch.
  • Has a fit / seizure.
  • Becomes extremely agitated (crying inconsolably despite distraction), confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake).
  • Develops a rash that does not disappear with pressure (the ‘Glass Test).
Actions to take if your child has any red symptoms
  • Your child may require emergency treatment.
  • You should call 999 or take them to your NEAREST Emergency Department where they can be assessed.

Amber Symptoms section


If there are no red symptoms, check if your child has any amber symptoms:
  • Your child is unable to swallow their own saliva.
  • Is having difficulty opening their mouth.
  • Has laboured / rapid breathing or they are working hard to breathe – drawing in the muscles below their lower ribs, at their neck or between their ribs (recession).
  • Harsh breath noise as they breathe in (stridor) or when they are upset.
  • Seems dehydrated (sunken eyes, drowsy or not passed urine for 12 hours).
  • Is becoming drowsy (excessively sleepy) or irritable (unable to settle them with cuddles, toys, TV or snacks) – especially if they remain drowsy or irritable despite any fever coming down.
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain.
  • Is three to six months of age with a temperature of 39°C / 102.2°F or above (please note fever is common in babies up to two days after they receive vaccinations) – how to take your child’s temperature.
  • Continues to have a fever of 38.0°C or above for more than five days.
  • Is getting worse or if you are worried.
Options if your child has any amber symptoms

Your child does not need to be taken to the Emergency Department immediately, but you should seek medical advice today.

You can:

  • ring your GP surgery during their usual opening hours
  • contact the out of hours GP if the surgery is closed

If symptoms continue for four hours or more and you have not been able to speak to your GP or the out of hours GP, consider going to your nearest Emergency Department. 

If your child develops any of the red symptoms above, go to your nearest Emergency Department.

Green Symptom image


If no red or amber symptoms are present:
  • your child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury
  • you can get general advice on the NI Direct website or from your local pharmacy

If your child develops any of the red or amber symptoms above, follow the advice in these sections.

How you can help manage your child’s sore throat at home
  • To make your child more comfortable, you may want to give them paracetamol (Calpol) and / or ibuprofen (Nurofen). This not only helps with fever but also reduces pain.
  • Most children with viral infections do not require treatment with antibiotics. Viral infections generally improve without the need for antibiotics in otherwise healthy, vaccinated children.
  • You should not use antibiotics when they are not needed. This will only lead to the development of antibiotic resistance in your child, which will make it more difficult to treat your child in future. Antibiotics can also cause side effects and they should only be used when the benefits are greater than the potential harm from the side effects. The Public Health Agency has this information on antibiotic awareness.

How long will your child’s symptoms last? 

After a week, more than three-quarters of those with a sore throat will be better whether they take antibiotics or not. Most who take antibiotics (13 out of 14) will get better just as quickly as if they hadn’t taken them.

Where to seek help

Useful links

Community pharmacists in Northern Ireland
How to take your baby’s temperature
Health visiting