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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.


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

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.


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).


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

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.


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: