Everyone gets the occasional sore throat, but what do you do when a sore throat lasts for weeks on end or makes it hard to swallow?
Most sore throats are nothing to worry about, but there are times when a sore or irritated throat can be a symptom of something more serious.
Read on to discover what to expect from a sore throat and the symptoms that suggest you may need to see a doctor.
What to expect from a sore throat
Most sore throats are caused by a mild infection. If you have a sore throat, the pain may get steadily worse for 2 to 3 days and then improve as your body starts to recover. You may also find that your voice sounds hoarse, or it hurts to swallow.
Soreness in the throat may be the only symptom you get, but you may also have:
- a headache
- a cough
- a mild temperature
- swollen glands at the front of your neck
If you have one or more of these symptoms, don’t worry. Most sore throats get better within a week and it’s normal to experience some flu or common cold-like symptoms. You may need to see a doctor if you have a weakened immune system or your sore throat lasts longer than a week, but it’s usually safe to treat your symptoms at home.
When to see a pharmacist for a sore throat
If you’re struggling to manage a sore throat at home you can take non-prescription pain medication like ibuprofen, gargle with warm salty water or suck on lozenges to ease the pain.
If your throat is still causing discomfort, you may want to talk to a pharmacist. Most pharmacists are trained to manage minor illnesses and they’ll be able to help you find effective remedies for a sore throat.
Will antibiotics help you manage a sore throat?
Around 90% of sore throats clear in less than a week, and studies show that antibiotics are unlikely to speed up your recovery. This is because antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and most sore throats are triggered by a viral infection.
A doctor may give you antibiotics if they suspect a bacterial infection like strep throat, but the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) says that most sore throats should be managed using a combination of self-care and non-prescription pain medication.
When should you see a doctor for a sore throat?
The answer to this question depends on the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve been in pain.
If you’re concerned, answer these questions:
- Has your sore throat lasted for more than a week?
- Do you have a high temperature?
- Is there white pus on the back of your throat?
- Are the glands in your neck swollen and tender?
- Do you have a sore throat with no cough?
- Do you often get sore throats?
- Do you have a sore throat and feel hot and shivery?
- Do you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of diabetes or chemotherapy
When to go to the emergency room
Get urgent medical attention if you have a sore throat and can’t breathe properly. You should also go straight to the emergency room if:
- you’re struggling to swallow saliva or are drooling
- you make a high-pitched sound every time you breathe
- you’re struggling to open your mouth
- your symptoms are severe and getting worse
- you have difficulty breathing