What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is when you have pain, dryness or irritation in your throat that sometimes worsens when you swallow. It’s often the first sign of a cold or flu. Because it can be caused by a virus, you might experience a combination of symptoms, such as a sore throat and headache or an earache and sore throat.
How long does a sore throat last?
A sore throat usually gets better in a week or so. If it doesn’t improve after a week, you should see a GP.
What are the symptoms of a sore throat?
If you have a sore throat, you may experience:
Pain when swallowing
A dry, scratchy throat
Swollen neck glands
Swollen, red tonsils (the fleshy pads at each side of the back of your throat)
White patches or pus on your tonsils
A hoarse voice
Children may also get a temperature and have less energy
Often a sore throat is a symptom of a viral illness, so you might also have a:
Is a sore throat a symptom of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
New, continuous cough
Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
What causes a sore throat?
In most cases, a sore throat is caused by a virus, like those that cause the common cold, flu, tonsillitis or laryngitis. Occasionally it can be caused by bacteria, most commonly Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes strep throat.
There are several other sore throat causes, including:
Smoking or being around smoke
Dry, indoor air
Muscle strain from shouting or talking for a long time
Allergies like dust and pollen (these can cause a post-nasal drip that inflames the throat)
Sleep apnoea or snoring at night
How to treat a sore throat
What helps a sore throat will depend on the cause. For advice, speak to a pharmacist who may suggest you try:
Paracetamol or ibuprofen
An anaesthetic spray
These treatments can be bought in a pharmacy or supermarket without a prescription.
Unless your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, you won’t be prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics would only be effective if a bacteria is causing your sore throat.
How to ease a sore throat at home
Wondering how to soothe a sore throat at home? There are plenty of sore throat remedies and advice you can try, including:
Getting plenty of fluids
Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
Eating cool, soft, nutritious food
Staying away from smoke
Sucking on ice cubes or lollies (small children shouldn’t try this)
Using a humidifier
Getting plenty of rest and sleep
You could also try gargling warm salt water, though children should avoid this home remedy as they may accidentally swallow it. It won't cure your sore throat or viral infection but should help you feel a bit more comfortable while your body fights it off. To give it a go yourself, try dissolving 1/4 - 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in a 250ml glass of warm water and then gargling it before spitting it out. Most viral sore throats will last about 7 days.
How to stop yourself from getting a sore throat
You can’t always avoid getting a sore throat, but you can avoid the germs that cause them by following good hygiene practices like:
Not touching your face
Not sharing food, drinks or cutlery
Coughing and sneezing into a tissue
Avoiding close contact with people who are ill
When should I talk to a doctor?
You should see a GP if you have a:
Constant sore throat for over a week
High temperature with your sore throat
Weakened immune system
You should call 999 if you or your child:
Has difficulty breathing or swallowing
Is making a high-pitched noise when breathing
Has severe symptoms that are worsening quickly
How can Livi help?
A Livi doctor can talk to you about your symptoms and give you advice on the next best steps.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi