Sore throat 

Introduction 

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are two small glands at the back of the throat behind the tongue. Learn how to spot the symptoms and find out who is most at risk.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015

How to prevent germs from spreading

Cleaning and good hygiene tips to help reduce the number of germs in your home

A sore throat (pharyngitis) is normally a symptom of a bacterial or viral infection, such as the common cold. In around a third of cases, no cause for the sore throat can be found.

If you have a sore throat, you may also have:

If your sore throat is caused by bacteria or a virus, you may also experience symptoms associated with common infectious conditions, such as:

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

Read more about the causes of a sore throat.

Treating a sore throat

Sore throats are common, especially in children and teenagers. This is because young people have not built up resistance (immunity) against many of the viruses and bacteria that can cause sore throats.

Most sore throats are not serious and usually pass without the need for medical treatment. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and self-care tips can usually help to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat without the need to see a GP.

Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for a sore throat, unless it is particularly severe or you are considered at risk of a more serious infection.

Read more detailed information about treating a sore throat.

How long will a sore throat last?

A recent UK study looked at people who book a GP appointment for a sore throat (probably those with worse symptoms). The results found:

  • in 50% of cases, moderately bad symptoms of a sore throat had settled seven days after the onset of the illness
  • in 80% of cases, moderately bad symptoms of a sore throat had gone after 10 days

When to seek medical help

Make an appointment to see your GP if:

  • you have a persistent high temperature above 38C (100.4F), which does not go down after taking medication
  • your symptoms do not improve within a week

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

  • epiglottitis  swelling and redness (inflammation) of the epiglottis (the flap of tissue at the back of the throat, underneath the tongue); if left untreated, it 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, usually caused by a bout of severe tonsillitis

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).

Emergency medical care

Contact your GP, local out-of-hours service or NHS 111 as soon as possible if you have a sore throat and you:

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

If your symptoms are very severe or getting worse quickly, visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 for an ambulance.

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 the body's immune system)
  • have leukaemia (cancer of the bone marrow)
  • have asplenia (when 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 (which stops your immune system working) – for example, because you have had an organ transplant
  • are taking an antithyroid 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)



Page last reviewed: 24/07/2014

Next review due: 24/07/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 385 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MissRP said on 12 May 2014

Last Saturday I woke with a sore throat, but didn't think anything of it. On Sunday it was extremely painful and I phoned 111. I assumed it was tonsillitis although I had my tonsils removed 3/4 years ago. I saw the on call doctor that afternoon who said it was pharyngitis, as its viral there is nothing they can do and just to take paracetamol and ibuprofen, which I'm taking every 2 hours. Fast forward a week and I am now coughing up lots of phlegm and have no voice from constant coughing. The pain is just about bearable but I am so frustrated there is nothing they can do. Does anyone have any tips that worked for them? I will now just about do anything to get rid of it!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

treenog said on 01 May 2014

I get a throat infections every month. for year! last month I was prescribed erythromicyn and yesterday the doctor said its not infected when really its tearing out my ear and pain so bad I cant even talk. my voice has gone. I was still only prescribed cocodomol which seriously isn't doing anything. i'm just tired off running to doctors who frankly aren't doing anything and i'm loosing confidence in them now. honey and milk (warm) soothes it but nothing else. even the natural remedies aren't strong enough to get rid of it anymore. ive been tested my thyroid and all showed ok.....:(

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

mebrad14 said on 21 March 2014

I had a scratchy sore throat all day yesterday, and last night I really struggled to swallow, with my throat feeling swollen and tender. This morning, I nearly lost my voice, and my throat is still really sore and tender. I have never had a sore throat like this before, and I have feel unwell and tired.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

angieb1969 said on 16 April 2013

hi, I've been unwell for around 2 weeks started with a runny nose,cough etc and then went onto my chest and throat..... Ihave not been able to talk for around a week as my throat is very sore. The doctors have given me steroids and 2 lots of antibiotic's but the throat side doesn't seem to be getting better. I constantly feel like my throat is sore and dry and like its closing up, I have even had to remove my chain as that also seems to aggravate it.. Im not sure what it is or what to do next.............Advice please..

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

KCsMommy said on 16 February 2013

I have literally just been discharged from hospital after being diagnosed with severe tonsillitis and pharyngitis. I was put in a bed and immediately cannulated and given, augmentin, steroids and paracetamol intravenously. They had no choice but to take me seriously because the swelling was starting to cause me to have difficulty in breathing and my uvula was so large it was impairing my speech.
I didn't think twice about going to a&e because I know my GP wouldn't have had an appointment until next week and then send me home with difflam spray.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

holland1995 said on 17 July 2012

I agree with the other comments - as a teenager I'm probably bottom of the pile, blaming all my symptoms for anything on adolescence. I have had symptoms which correspond with gastro esophageal reflux disease for two years now and every time I go to the doctor about it I'm prescribed omeprazole, which makes it go away for about two weeks and then I'm right back to where I started. Reading these comments I'm getting quite scared about going to the doctor for my strep throat (possibly tonsillitis) as I genuinely am in a lot of pain since going to a festival recently and I'd really like some relief...

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Hi2LoobyLoo said on 11 July 2012

I totally agree with OxfordAnnie. Great advice can be found online, but try and discuss this with any health professional and you get nowhere. I have had a severe gastric problem for more than 2 years now and have repeatedly been refused a referral to a specialist. GPs are only interested in dishing out a quick fix prescription.
It makes me cross when even on the radio now you hear advice about reporting symptoms early ie. a persistent cough. In my experience you will be told to take paracetamol.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

OxfordAnnie said on 08 July 2012

I do increasingly wonder about the variation between advice and practice in the NHS. I have had a sore throat since February, I have duly trooped backwards and forwards to my GP - blood tests, swabs etc have shown nothing so 'it's a virus'. A couple of weeks ago I asked if I could be referred since chronic sore throat is so often listed as something to take seriously. I saw a consultant last Friday, he examined my throat with a camera and said it was within what could be classed as 'normal'. Well it isn't normal for me, I am fit, eat healthily, am not overweight, am not HIV positive or similar. I tried to pursue the possibility of other causes (allergies?) but was dismissed and ended up feeling silly about having gone. Yet as others have said on this site, American health websites give much more information about symptoms and conditions and clearly, many more tests are taken and diagnoses considered. What is the point of telling people to report a symptom if that symptom is then not taken seriously by the medics 'on the ground'?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Cold or flu?

Find out about symptoms of colds and flu and how to stop the viruses spreading

High temperature in children

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