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 part of 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.
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:
Runny or blocked nose
Muscle aches and pains
Is a sore throat a symptom of COVID-19?
A sore throat isn’t one of the main symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus). But if you have a sore throat and cough, it’s worth getting tested. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
New, continuous cough
Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
Causes of a sore throat
In most cases, a sore throat is caused by a viral illness, like the common cold or flu. 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)
Treatment for 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.
How to get rid of 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 saltwater, 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 out.
How to lower your risk of 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 to see a GP
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
- Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont
Lead GP at Livi