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
How to gargle with salt water
- Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water – warm water helps salt dissolve.
- Gargle with the solution, then spit it out – do not swallow it.
- Repeat as often as you like.
Media review due: 1 June 2023
A pharmacist can help with sore throats
To help relieve the pain and discomfort of a sore throat, you can:
- use paracetamol or ibuprofen
- use 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.
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).
GPs do not normally prescribe antibiotics for sore throats because they will not usually relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
They'll only be prescribed if your GP thinks you could have a bacterial infection.
Immediate action required: Call 999 if:
- you have difficulty swallowing or breathing
- you're drooling
- you're making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
- your symptoms are severe and getting worse quickly
These symptoms can make breathing more difficult.
Causes and symptoms 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 painful throat, especially when swallowing
- a dry, scratchy throat
- redness in the back of the 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.
Conditions that can cause a sore throat
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Page last reviewed: 15 January 2018
Next review due: 15 January 2021