Sore throat symptoms include pain when swallowing, a dry, scratchy throat, bad breath and redness in the back of your mouth.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses like cold or flu. Smoking can also cause them. Sometimes they’re caused by other conditions like tonsillitis.
You can ask a pharmacist about ways of relieving the pain and discomfort of a sore throat by:
- using paracetamol or ibuprofen
- using medicated lozenges or anaesthetic sprays (although there's little proof they help)
You can buy them from a supermarket or from a pharmacist without a prescription.
Call your pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.
You do not normally need antibiotics for a sore throat because they will not usually relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
They'll only be prescribed if a GP thinks you could have a bacterial infection.
See a GP if:
- your sore throat does not improve after a week
- you often get sore throats
- you're worried about your sore throat
- you have a sore throat and a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of diabetes or chemotherapy
A severe or long-lasting sore throat could be something like strep throat (a bacterial throat infection).
Call 999 if:
You or your child:
- have difficulty swallowing or breathing
- are drooling – this can be a sign of not being able to swallow
- are making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
- have severe symptoms and are getting worse quickly
If you have a sore throat you might have:
- a painful throat, especially when swallowing
- a dry, scratchy throat
- redness in the back of your mouth
- bad breath
- a mild cough
- swollen neck glands
The symptoms are similar for children, but children can also get a temperature and appear less active.
Sore throats are usually caused by viruses (like cold or flu) or from smoking. Very occasionally they can be caused by bacteria.
A sore throat can also be caused by:
Page last reviewed: 05-02-2021
Next review due:05-02-2024