Sore throat - Symptoms 

Symptoms of a sore throat 

Symptoms and signs of a sore throat include:

  • swollen tonsils (two small glands found at the back of your throat, behind the tongue)
  • enlarged and tender glands in your neck
  • a painful, tender feeling at the back of your throat
  • discomfort when swallowing

If you have a sore throat, you may also experience other symptoms associated with common infectious conditions, such as:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
  • aching muscles
  • a headache
  • tiredness
  • a cough
  • a runny nose

These other symptoms will depend on what infection is causing your sore throat.

When to visit your GP

If you have a sore throat, make an appointment to see your GP if:

  • you have a persistent high temperature above 38C (100.4F) which is not reduced by medication
  • your symptoms do not improve after two weeks
  • you have frequent sore throats that do not respond to painkillers, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin

It is important to investigate the cause of your temperature because it may be the result of a more serious condition, such as:

  • epiglottitis: inflammation (swelling and redness) of the epiglottis (the flap of tissue at the back of the throat, underneath the tongue) which, if left untreated, can cause breathing difficulties
  • quinsy: an abscess (a painful collection of pus) that develops between the back of the tonsil and the wall of the throat

Blood tests may be carried out if your GP suspects you have a type of viral infection called glandular fever (also known as infectious mononucleosis).

At-risk groups

While most sore throats can be treated at home, some people are more at risk than others of developing complications from a sore throat and may need additional treatment.

See your GP at the first sign of infection if you:

  • have HIV and AIDS (a virus that attacks your immune system, the body’s defence system)
  • have leukaemia (cancer of the bone marrow)
  • have asplenia (your spleen, an organ behind your stomach, does not work properly or has been removed)
  • have aplastic anaemia (when your bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells)
  • are receiving chemotherapy
  • are taking an immunosuppressant medicine (medicine that stops your immune system working), for example because you have had an organ transplant
  • are taking an antithyroid medication (medication to stop your thyroid gland producing too many hormones), such as carbimazole
  • are taking a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), for example to treat arthritis (a common condition that causes inflammation in the joints and bones)

Read more about the causes of a sore throat.

Page last reviewed: 11/05/2012

Next review due: 11/05/2014


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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User763241 said on 09 April 2013

I've recently been suffering from a painful throat. However it is painful NOT sore. And there are no other symptoms such a cold symptoms with this. It hurts all the time and has been this way for 4 days now, it is very painful to swallow as well as breathing.

I'm not sure what is wrong with my throat. It feels as if something is swollen at the back of my throat on the left hand side.

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Karen Wyness said on 23 January 2013

I was not feeling myself last Friday and felt what I can only describe as depressed on Saturday by Monday I went to work with a headache and slight sore throat and thought ok now it makes sense why I was feeling the way I was. I took 2 neurogenic over the course of Monday but it did not shift the headache. By 3.30pm I was in bed with a high fever and slept barely able to lift my head to keep drinking sips of orange juice. By Tuesday lunch time I had a yoghurt and made some green tea and took paracetamol. I gargled with aspirin and then later with TCP. I then rang my GP who rang me back with a telephone consultation I explained all my symptoms he said it sounds like a viral bug but he was rather concerned about the possibility of a throat infection which would explain the fever and headaches. He was surprised that I did not have a running nose or coughing.

He said you are doing all you can but if you don't feel better by the morning ring the surgery and come in for antibiotics we need to look at your throat. Reading these threads I feel rather fortunate as it appears I have a good GP / surgery as it was not my usual GP who rung me but overall the surgery is pretty good. So always ask for a telephone consultation if you are concerned about your symptoms.

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manic mable said on 24 April 2012

Having had a severe sore throat for over a week and accompanying symptoms which included a constant high temp unresponsive to paracetamol, tiredness, headaches, nausia, swollen glands, a nasty taste in my mouth, foul smelly sneezes and ear ache to name a few, I decided to visit a GP. Sadly it wasn't my usual GP but a locom who suggested my throat was viral and packed me off home without a prescription to ride out the storm!

Unhappy with my diagnosis, I checked out this site which seemed to back up the locoms diagnosis.... Then I checked out the american sites, all of which gave far more detail and a better understanding of my symptoms and of obvious treatment. I went back to my GP who reluctantly agreed to give me anibiotics after almost two weeks of illness. Within 24hrs I was so much better.

During most this time and despite being really poorly I remained in my job at a school not thinking I could be passing on a highly contagious infection to any number of staff and pupils.

In deed a sore throat caused through a virus must run its course and common sense prevails as to how it is treated. But if your symptoms seem much more severe I suggest any sufferer gets themselves down to their GP after a week and ask about Strep throat bacterial infection before they become really ill with it or risk passing it on.

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johnlovegrove69 said on 13 October 2011

Like many people, I worry about wasting my GPs time by making a trip unnecassarily and so my main reason for visiting this site is to see if a visit is justified.

I had developed an extremely sore throat, with headaches, swollen glands and a very high temperature which was making me feel absolutely terrible!

Now it might be me misinterpreting the content relating to sore throats, tonsillitis and glandular fever, but I was of the belief that I should put up with these symptoms for a couple of weeks before making a trip to my GP and even then, it was more likely to be a viral infection as opposed to bacterial, meaning nothing could be done.

After a week of being extremely ill I could take it no longer and managed to get an urgent GPs appointment. Having explained the symtoms the doctor had a quick look at my throat and immediately diagnosed bacterial tonsillitis. He prescribed antibiotics and 24hrs later I'm already feeling markedly better.

My suggestion for the site is that perhaps the information regarding visiting your GP if you have a 'persitant' temperature is a little bit clearer (how long is persistant? 2 days? 1 week? 2 weeks?) and put higher up the list than 'if your symptoms do not improve after two weeks'.

I also think the three different pieces of information relating to sore throats, tonsillitis and glandular fever could be cross referenced a bit better.

Finally, the quality of information from American sites relating to 'strep throat' (bacterial tonsillitis in UK terms unless I'm very much mistaken) is far better than this sites content.

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Emergency medical advice

Seek urgent medical attention if you:

  • have difficulty breathing
  • are making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (stridor)
  • start drooling
  • have a muffled voice
  • are in severe pain
  • have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or are not able to swallow enough fluids

Visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or, if this is not possible, call 999 for an ambulance.

High temperature in children

How to look after your child if they have a high temperature