Sore throats are extremely common. They are usually caused by a harmless viral infection which will get better by itself. Symptoms include a painful throat, especially when swallowing, a dry, scratchy throat, redness in the back of your mouth, bad breath, a mild cough, or swollen neck glands. You may have tonsillitis if you have pus on your tonsils (the two clumps of tissue on either side of your throat), painful glands in your neck and fever. The Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever, is responsible for about 1 to 10 out of 100 cases.
Your sore throat is likely to get better within a week without the need for treatment by a health professional.
You won’t need antibiotics (which can often do more harm than good if given unnecessarily) for most throat infections.
How can I avoid triggers/ suggested lifestyle changes?
- Home remedies – You can relieve symptoms of sore throat by eating cool, soft food and drinking cool or warm drinks, as well as sucking lozenges, ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets (do not give young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking). Adults can gargle with warm, salty water which may help reduce swelling and pain (gargling is not suitable for children).
- Avoid Smoking – Try to avoid smoking and smoky environments as much as you can as this may irritate your throat.
- Hydration – Drink plenty of water, at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid (preferably water) every day, particularly if you also have a fever.
How can I treat symptoms of a sore throat?
- Pain relief – Painkillers help to relieve symptoms of sore throat, fever, and headaches in adults. Use what suits you best and talk to your pharmacist if you’re unsure. Paracetamol taken alongside ibuprofen or aspirin are the most commonly used pain killers for this type of illness (children under 16 years old should avoid products containing aspirin).
- Gargles, lozenges, and sprays – There is not enough good quality evidence to recommend non-prescription gargles, lozenges, and throat sprays, however you may still find them helpful.
- Speak to your pharmacist – For advice if you’re not sure which type of medicine is best for you and your symptoms.
- GPs don’t normally prescribe antibiotics for sore throats as they are usually caused by viral infections; hence antibiotics will not work. A GP will only prescribe if they think you have a bacterial infection.
It is important to stay at home and rest until you feel better if you have a high fever or do not feel well enough to complete your normal activities
When should I seek advice?
Seek medical advice if your symptoms are no better after a week, or if you have frequent sore throats that do not respond to pain killers.
Warning symptoms and signs include:
- High fever – You have a persistent high temperature over 38°C for more than three days that does not come down even if you take ibuprofen and/or paracetamol.
- Glandular fever – You have a sore throat that doesn’t get better within 10 to 14 days or that gets worse rather than better may suggest glandular fever.
- Breathing – You find it hard to breathe in, and your throat feels like it’s closing up.
- Drooling and swallowing – You’re drooling and find it difficult to swallow – this is an emergency!
- Severity – Your pain is severe and does not respond to over-the-counter pain killers.
- Fluid intake – You find it difficult to drink enough fluids and become dehydrated.
- Effects on day-to-day life – Your symptoms are so bad that they severely affect your quality of life and prevent you from functioning normally.
- HIV/ AIDS or other causes of reduced immunity – If you suffer from a sore throat and have a deficient immune system because, for example, you have HIV/ AIDS, or you take certain medication (such as chemotherapy, high dose steroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or a drug called carbimazole), you should seek medical advice if you develop a sore throat.
Where can I get more information?
- NHS Choices – nhs.uk
- Your local community pharmacy