Sore throats are very frequent and usually nothing to worry about. They normally become better within a week.
Most are produced by minor illnesses such as colds or flu and can be treated at home.
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What are the treatments for a sore throat
The following measures can often assist soothe a sore throat:
- take ibuprofen or paracetamol – paracetamol is better for children and for people who can’t take ibuprofen (note that children under 16 should never take aspirin)
- Take plenty of cool or warm fluids, and stay away from very hot drinks
- eat cool, soft foods
- Abstain from smoking and smoky places
- gargle with a homemade mouthwash of warm, salty water
- suck lozenges, hard sweets, ice cubes or ice lollies – but don’t offer young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
There are also products such as medicated lozenges and sprays sold in pharmacies that you may feel like trying. There isn’t much scientific evidence to suggest they assist, although some people find them worth using.
Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for a sore throat, even if it’s caused by a bacterial infection, as they’re unlikely to make you get better any quicker and they can have unpleasant side effects.
Causes of a sore throat
The source of a sore throat isn’t always obvious. But in most situations it’s a symptom of a viral or bacterial infection.
A sore throat is often a symptom of:
- colds or flu – you may also have a blocked or runny nose, a cough, a high temperature (fever), a headache and general aches
- laryngitis (inflammation of the voice box) – you may equally have a hoarse voice, a dry cough and a constant need to clear your throat
- tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) – you may equally have red or spotty tonsils, discomfort when swallowing and a fever
- strep throat (a bacterial throat infection) – you may also have swollen glands in your neck, discomfort when swallowing and tonsillitis
- glandular fever – you may also be feeling very tired and have a fever and swollen glands in your neck
It may equally be caused by something irritating your throat, such as smoke, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (where acid leaks up from the stomach) and allergies.
Less often, a sore throat can be a symptom of:
- quinsy (a painful collection of pus at the back of the throat) – the pain may be severe and you may also have problems opening your mouth or difficulty swallowing
- epiglottitis (inflammation of the flap of tissue at the back of the throat) – the pain may be severe and you may have problem breathing and difficulty swallowing
These conditions are more serious and should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible (see below).
When to get medical advice
You don’t usually have to get medical advice if you have a sore throat.
But it’s a good idea to contact your care giver if your symptoms are severe
- you have persistent symptoms that have not started to improve after a week
- you notice severe sore throats frequently
- you have a weak immune system – for example, you have HIV, are having chemotherapy, or are taking medication that suppresses your immune system
When to get emergency help
Very rarely, a sore throat can be an indication of a serious problem.
Visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department your symptoms are severe or getting worse quickly
- you have problems breathing
- you’re making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
- you have difficulty swallowing
- you begin drooling