Sore throat 



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

A sore throat 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. 

A sore throat is also known as pharyngitis.

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

Other symptoms may accompany the sore throat, such as:

  • a runny nose
  • a headache
  • muscle aches
  • a cough
  • inflammation (redness and swelling) in your throat 

Read more about the symptoms of a sore throat.

When to see your GP

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

You should make an appointment to see your GP if:

  • you have a persistent (lasting several days) 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

A sore throat can develop into a more serious infection if you:

  • have a weakened immune system (the body’s defence system), for example because of HIV and AIDS
  • take certain medications, such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs, used to treat arthritis)

These people should contact their GP for further advice. See Sore throat – symptoms for a full list of people who may be at risk of a more serious infection.

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.

Self-care tips

If you or someone in your family has a sore throat, the tips below may help relieve the symptoms:

  • Avoid food or drink that is too hot as this could irritate your throat.
  • Eat cool, soft food and drink cool or warm liquids.
  • Adults and older children can suck lozenges, hard sweets, ice cubes or ice lollies.
  • Avoid smoking and smoky environments.
  • Regularly gargle with a mouthwash of warm, salty water to reduce any swelling or pain.
  • Drink enough fluids, especially if you have a high temperature (fever).

Read more about treating a sore throat.

Page last reviewed: 11/05/2012

Next review due: 11/05/2014


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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!

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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.....:(

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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.

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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..

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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'?

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