Sore throats are not usually serious and the condition often passes in three to seven days. There are some treatments you can use at home to relieve your symptoms.
For treating sore throats, over-the-counter painkillers (analgesics), such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, are usually recommended. These may also help reduce a fever (high temperature).
You should not take aspirin or ibuprofen if you have (or have had in the past) stomach problems such as a peptic ulcer (an open sore in your stomach) or if you have liver or kidney problems. Paracetamol should be used instead.
Children under 16 years of age should never be given aspirin. Instead, paracetamol or ibuprofen should be used.
Take painkillers as necessary to relieve your pain. Always read the manufacturer's instructions so you do not exceed the recommended or prescribed dose.
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).
The use of antibiotics (medication to treat bacterial infection) is not usually recommended for the treatment of sore throats. This is because:
- Most sore throats are not caused by bacteria.
- Even if your sore throat is caused by bacteria, antibiotics have very little effect on the severity of the symptoms and how long they last, and may cause unpleasant side effects.
- Overusing antibiotics to treat minor ailments can make them less effective in the treatment of life-threatening conditions.
Antibiotics are usually only prescribed if:
- your sore throat is particularly severe
- you are at increased risk of a severe infection, for example because you have a weakened immune system due to HIV or diabetes (a long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood)
- you are at risk of having a weakened immune system, for example because you are taking a medication that can cause this, such as carbimazole (to treat an overactive thyroid gland)
- you have a history of rheumatic fever (a condition that can cause widespread inflammation throughout the body)
- you have valvular heart disease (a disease affecting the valves in your heart, which control blood flow)
- you experience repeated infections caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria
A 10-day dose of a penicillin antibiotic called phenoxymethylpenicillin is usually prescribed in these circumstances. It is important to finish the dose even if you feel better. If you are allergic to penicillin, another antibiotic such as erythromycin or clarithromycin may be used.
Antibiotics may cause side effects, including:
- nausea (feeling sick)
For more information on all the different side effects and interactions of your medication, see the patient information leaflet that comes with it.
A tonsillectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the tonsils (the two lumps of tissue on either side of your throat). If your child has repeated infections of the tonsils (tonsillitis), a tonsillectomy may be considered.
See the Health A-Z topic on Tonsillitis - treatment for more information on this procedure and when it is used.
Persistent sore throat
If you have a persistent sore throat (a sore throat that lasts three to four weeks), your GP may refer you for further tests. This is because your sore throat may be a symptom of a more serious condition. Some possibilities are described below.
If you are 15-25 years of age with a persistent sore throat, you may have glandular fever (also known as infectious mononucleosis). This is a type of viral infection with symptoms that can last up to six weeks. See the Health A-Z topic about Glandular fever for more information.
A persistent sore throat can also be a symptom of some types of cancer, such as oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of part of the throat). This type of cancer is rare and mainly affects people over 50 years of age.
See the Health A-Z topic about Mouth cancer for more information or visit Cancer Research UK to find out about mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.
Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the body. Some can cause illness and disease and some others are good for you.
The immune system is the body's defence system, which helps protect it from disease, bacteria and viruses.
Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.
Two small glands found at the back of your throat, behind the tongue.