Sore throat

Sore throat symptoms include pain when swallowing, a dry, scratchy throat, bad breath and redness in the back of your mouth.

To soothe a sore throat, it can help to gargle with warm, salty water (not suitable for children), drink plenty of water, and eat cool or soft foods.

You can get medicines from a pharmacy that may help with a sore throat, such as painkillers, medicated lozenges or anaesthetic sprays.

Most sore throats are caused by viruses like cold or flu. Smoking can also cause them. Sometimes they’re caused by other conditions like tonsillitis.

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

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 containing either a local anaesthetic, antiseptic, or the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine
  • using anaesthetic spray (although there's little proof they help)

You can buy these treatments from a supermarket or from a pharmacist without a prescription.

  • 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).

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:

[Last reviewed 2021-02-05]
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