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Sore throat

Sore throats are very common and usually nothing to worry about. They normally get better within a week.

Most are caused by minor illnesses such as cold or flu and can be treated at home.

Treatments for a sore throat

There are things you can do to help soothe a sore throat.

Do

  • take ibuprofen or paracetamol – paracetamol is better for children and for people who can't take ibuprofen (children under 16 should never take aspirin)
  • drink plenty of cool or warm fluids, and avoid very hot drinks
  • eat cool, soft foods
  • avoid smoking and smoky places
  • suck lozenges, hard sweets, ice cubes or ice lollies – but don't give young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
  • gargle with a homemade mouthwash of warm, salty water (children should not try this)
How to gargle with salt water
  1. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (warm water helps salt dissolve).
  2. Gargle with the solution, then spit it out (do not swallow it).
  3. Repeat as often as you like.

There are also products such as medicated lozenges and sprays sold in pharmacies that you may want to try. There isn't much scientific evidence to suggest they help, although some people find them worth using.

Antibiotics aren't usually prescribed for a sore throat, even if it's caused by a bacterial infection. They're unlikely to make you feel better any quicker and they have unpleasant side effects

Sore throat self-help guide

If you have a sore throat, complete our self-help guide to assess your symptoms and find out what to do next.

Self-help guide

Return to Symptoms




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When to get professional advice 

Immediate action required: Go to A&E or phone 999 if:

You or your child have: 

  • symptoms that are severe or getting worse quickly
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • severe pain
  • started drooling 
  • a muffled voice 
  • a high-pitched sound as you breathe (stridor)

If you have a sore throat, you can get advice and treatment directly from a pharmacy.

You don't usually need to get medical advice if you have a sore throat. Your pharmacist may advise you to see your GP if:

  • your symptoms are severe - for example with a high temperature or you feel shivery
  • you have persistent symptoms that haven't started to improve after a week 
  • you experience severe sore throats frequently 
  • you have a weak immune system - for example, you have HIV, are having chemotherapy, or are taking medication that suppresses your immune system 

If your GP practice is closed, phone 111

If you have a persistent sore throat (one that lasts 3 to 4 weeks), you should see your GP who may refer you for further tests. This is because your sore throat may be a symptom of a more serious condition. 

Causes of a sore throat

The cause of a sore throat isn't always obvious. But in most cases it's a symptom of a viral or bacterial infection.

Common causes

A sore throat is often a symptom of: 

  • colds or flu – you may also have a blocked or runny nose, a cough, a high temperature (fever), a headache and general aches 
  • laryngitis (inflammation of the voice box) – you may also have a hoarse voice, a dry cough and a constant need to clear your throat
  • tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) – you may also have red or spotty tonsils, discomfort when swallowing and a fever  
  • strep throat (a bacterial throat infection) – you may also have swollen glands in your neck, discomfort when swallowing and tonsillitis
  • glandular fever – you may also feel very tired, have a fever and swollen glands in your neck 

It may also be caused by something irritating your throat. For example, smoke, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (where acid leaks up from the stomach) and allergies

Less common causes 

Less often, a sore throat can be a sign of:

  • a painful collection of pus at the back of the throat (quinsy) – the pain may be severe and you may also have difficulty opening your mouth or difficulty swallowing
  • inflammation of the flap of tissue at the back of the throat (epiglottitis) – the pain may be severe and you may have difficulty breathing and difficulty swallowing

These conditions are more serious and should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.

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