Learn more about sore throat: introduction
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
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.
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.
Call your pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.
You do not normally need antibiotics for a sore throat because they will not usually relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
They'll only be prescribed if a GP thinks you could have a bacterial infection.
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.