What are These White Spots on My Child’s Throat?

female people holding her inflamed throat

Since sore throats can be a frequent complaint among children and teens, you may spend a lot of time examining the back of your child’s throat to determine their well-being. While you may often observe swollen tonsils or inflamed soft tissue, the presence of white spots can be startling. 

White spots on your child’s throat typically appear as symptoms of one of several common infections caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. The good news is that these conditions are usually treatable with an accurate diagnosis and appropriate medication. 

Determining the source of your child’s white spots requires a medical examination. When your child needs immediate care for an illness or injury, pediatrician Andrew Satran, MD, and our staff at Advanced Pediatrics of Rockland in Pomona, New York, provide the convenience of same-day sick visits for prompt diagnosis of your child’s condition. 

Based on a physical examination and lab tests such as a throat culture and/or blood test, Dr. Satran determines the source of your child’s symptoms and advises the steps necessary to help them feel better. If necessary, he prescribes prescription antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat the infection. 

Here are some common causes of white spots on your child’s throat and the treatments that are typically advised.

Strep throat

Strep throat is an infection that affects your child’s tonsils and throat. It is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep). 

While anyone can get strep throat, it occurs most often in children ages 5 through 15. Strep throat accounts for about 30% of sore throats in children and 10% of sore throats in adults, according to the CDC.

Like white spots, many common symptoms of strep throat are associated with other illnesses. Arrange for a sick visit If your child has white spots on their throat and any of the following symptoms:

  • A sore throat that persists longer than 48 hours
  • A fever
  • A sore throat and tender, swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

If strep throat is diagnosed, an antibiotic is prescribed for treatment. Over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be used to treat fever and pain.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush, or oral candidiasis, is a yeast infection that most commonly occurs in babies younger than 6 months. The condition is caused by a type of fungus called Candida albicans (C. albicans)

While most people have C. albicans in their digestive tracts and mouths without difficulties, it can cause problems when it affects babies who have an underdeveloped immune system. Too much C. albicans in your child’s body can also cause diaper rash, making it possible for a baby to have oral thrush and diaper rash simultaneously. 

The white patches that occur with oral thrush typically occur toward the front of your child’s mouth. Other symptoms of oral thrush may include:

  • Redness or bleeding around the white patches
  • Pain or discomfort demonstrated by irritability when feeding
  • Cracks in the corners of your baby’s mouth
  • Patches of white liquid that resemble milk but don’t disappear when wiping

If feeding becomes too painful, your baby may refuse to breastfeed or take a bottle, increasing their risk of dehydration. If a diagnosis of oral thrush is confirmed, Dr. Satran prescribes an anti-yeast medication as appropriate. 

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis, or infectious mononucleosis, is a viral infection that usually appears about 1-2 months after your child is infected with the Epstein-Barr virus. While infants and young children can become infected, symptoms are more common in teens and young adults. 

In addition to white patches on the throat, mononucleosis may be accompanied by:

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain as the result of an enlarged liver or spleen
  • Sore muscles
  • Skin rash

Treatment for mononucleosis typically involves fluids and plenty of rest. However, since the symptoms associated with mononucleosis can resemble so many other conditions, it’s wise to get a confirmed diagnosis even if you know your child is likely to be infected as a result of exposure. 

Tonsillitis

Your tonsils are the two small lumps of soft tissue that are located on either side of the back of your throat. When your child’s tonsils are infected or inflamed, the condition is called tonsillitis. 

A child with tonsillitis can have many of the same symptoms as strep throat, so any sore throat that lasts for more than two days should be evaluated for an accurate diagnosis. If your child has white spots and strep throat is ruled out, tonsillitis may be the cause of their symptoms.

Tonsillitis is typically treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever or pain.

Find out what to do if your child has white spots on their throat. To schedule a sick visit, request an appointment online or call our office. 

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