Sore Throat

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

To help soothe a sore throat and shorten how long it lasts, you can:

  • gargle with warm, salty water (children should not try this)
  • drink plenty of water
  • eat cool or soft foods
  • avoid smoking or smoky places
  • suck ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets – but do not give young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
  • rest

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 containing either a local anaesthetic, antiseptic, or the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine
  • using anaesthetic spray (although there's little proof they help)

You can buy these treatments 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.

Find a pharmacy

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

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