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Sore throat

Sore throats are very common and usually nothing to worry about. They normally get better by themselves within a week.

How to treat a sore throat yourself

To help soothe a sore throat and shorten how long it lasts, you can:

  • gargle with warm, salty water (children should not try this)
  • drink plenty of water
  • eat cool or soft foods
  • avoid smoking or smoky places
  • suck ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets – but do not give young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
  • rest
How to gargle with salt water
  1. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (warm water helps salt dissolve).
  2. Gargle with the solution, then spit it out (do not swallow it).
  3. Repeat as often as you like.

Video: how to treat a sore throat

This video shows you how to treat a sore throat.

Media last reviewed: 1 June 2020
Media review due: 1 June 2023

A pharmacist can help with sore throats

You can ask a pharmacist about ways of relieving the pain and discomfort of a sore throat by:

  • using paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • using medicated lozenges or anaesthetic sprays (although there's little proof they help)

You can buy them from a supermarket or from a pharmacist without a prescription.

Information:

Call your pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.

Antibiotics

You do not normally need antibiotics for a sore throat because they will not usually relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

They'll only be prescribed if a GP thinks you could have a bacterial infection.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your sore throat does not improve after a week
  • you often get sore throats
  • you're worried about your sore throat
  • you have a sore throat and a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of diabetes or chemotherapy

A severe or long-lasting sore throat could be something like strep throat (a bacterial throat infection).

Information:

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus

Immediate action required: Call 999 if:

You or your child:

  • have difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • are drooling – this can be a sign of not being able to swallow
  • are making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
  • have severe symptoms and are getting worse quickly

Sore throat symptoms

If you have a sore throat you might have:

  • a painful throat, especially when swallowing
  • a dry, scratchy throat
  • redness in the back of your mouth
  • bad breath
  • a mild cough
  • swollen neck glands

The symptoms are similar for children, but children can also get a temperature and appear less active.

Causes of sore throats

Sore throats are usually caused by viruses (like cold or flu) or from smoking. Very occasionally they can be caused by bacteria.

A sore throat can also be caused by:

Page last reviewed: 05 February 2021
Next review due: 05 February 2024