Every year, approximately 1.2 million people in the UK visit a doctor because they have a sore throat. But most sore throats don’t need to be treated by a doctor. In fact, studies show that 90% of sore throats clear up within a week, and there’s plenty you can do to manage the symptoms yourself.
Why is my throat sore?
Most sore throats are caused by minor illnesses like the flu or common cold. You may need to see a doctor if the soreness lasts for more than a week, but it’s usually safe to manage the symptoms at home.
A sore throat can be a symptom of an illness like tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils), strep throat (a bacterial throat infection) or glandular fever. Sore throats can also be triggered by allergies.
You should see a doctor if your symptoms are severe or don’t ease within a week. Seek medical attention immediately if:
- you have difficulty breathing or swallowing
- you’re drooling
- you make a high-pitched sound when you breathe
- your symptoms are severe and getting worse
See a doctor if:
- your sore throat doesn’t improve after a week
- you get sore throats often
- you're worried about your sore throat
- you have a sore throat and a 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 may be due to strep throat.
Managing a sore throat at home
Take painkillers if advised
If your throat is especially painful, a doctor may advise you take a painkiller like paracetamol. It can be taken at regular intervals and may help to keep soreness to a minimum.
Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for further guidance on whether to use these medications and how to get and use them.
Gargle with warm salty water
If your sore throat is making it painful to swallow, it may help to gargle with warm salty water. To do this, dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle for 10 to 20 seconds before spitting the water into the sink.
Important: Children under the age of 12 shouldn’t gargle salt water.
Drink plenty of fluids
A sore throat can make it harder to swallow, but it’s important to stay hydrated. Warm fluids (plain water or a homemade lemon and honey drink) may help to soothe your throat and ease inflammation.
To keep your body hydrated, drink the recommended 6 to 8 glasses daily. It’s best to avoid very hot tea or coffee because these drinks can irritate your throat.
Eat smooth, soothing foods
Ice lollies, ice cream and other cold treats may provide temporary relief from a sore throat. Some people find it helps to suck on ice cubes or hard sweets, but don’t give young children anything small or hard to suck as there’s always a risk of choking.
Will sore throat lozenges help?
There’s some evidence to show that benzocaine (a type of local anaesthetic or numbing medicine) lozenges may provide temporary pain relief for people with a sore throat, but there isn’t enough proof that non-medicated lozenges or throat sprays help to relieve a sore throat.
A doctor may recommend you use painkillers from the pharmacy to help your sore throat. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for more information on whether to use these medications and how to get and use them.
If you would like more tips on how to treat a sore throat yourself, our article on natural remedies for a sore throat may help.