Sore throat

Self care advice

Sore throats are extremely common - usually caused by a harmless viral throat infection that gets better by itself. Your sore throat is likely to get better within three to seven days (and a maximum of 2 weeks) without the need for treatment by a health professional. Most sore throats last an average of seven days.

You won’t normally need antibiotics, which can often do more harm than good if given unnecessarily.

What can I do to get better?

  • Relieve symptoms of sore throat by eating cool, soft food and drinking cool or warm drinks, as well as sucking lozenges, ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets. Gargling with warm, salty water may also help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Avoid smoking and smoky environments as much as you can.
  • Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid (preferably water) every day, particularly if you also have a fever. Painkillers help to relieve symptoms of sore throat, fever, and headaches in adults. Use what suits you best and talk to your pharmacist if you’re unsure.
  • There is not enough good quality evidence to recommend non-prescription gargles, lozenges and throat sprays – although you may still find them helpful.

When should I seek medical advice?

  • You have a persistent high temperature over 38°C for more than three days that does not come down even if you take ibuprofen and/or paracetamol.
  • A sore throat that doesn’t get better within 10 to 14 days or that gets worse rather than better may suggest glandular fever.
  • You find it hard to breathe in, and your throat feels like it’s closing up
  • Your pain is severe and does not respond to over the counter pain killers.
  • Your voice becomes muffled.
  • You find it difficult to drink enough fluids and become dehydrated
  • Your symptoms are so bad that they severely affect your quality of life and prevent you from functioning normally.
  • If you suffer from a sore throat and have a deficient immune system because, for example, you have HIV/AIDS, or you take certain medication (such as chemotherapy, high dose steroids, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or a drug called carbimazole), you should seek medical advice if you develop a sore throat.