Sore throat

Sore throats are common and not usually serious. Most people will have at least 2 or 3 every year. Children and teenagers are more likely to get sore throats than adults.

Most sore throats will clear after a few days without the need for medical treatment. After a week, almost 9 in 10 people will be well again.

Symptoms

Sore throats are common and not usually serious.

They are usually a symptom of a viral infection. Most sore throats are caused by a virus so antibiotics won't help.

Symptoms include:

  • painful throat, especially when swallowing
  • dry scratchy throat
  • redness in the back of the mouth
  • bad breath
  • mild cough
  • swollen neck glands

You may also have a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, fever and a tickly cough. Sometimes your voice may get hoarse.

Prevent the spread of COVID-19

A sore throat can be a symptom of COVID-19.

Get advice about symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do

Causes

Most sore throats are caused by a virus. Viruses cause tonsillitis and laryngitis. 

Sometimes sore throats they can be caused by bacteria (strep throat). With bacterial infections, you will usually feel sicker and take longer to get better. Your immune system may clear the strep throat or you may need an antibiotic.

Treatment

About 8 out of every 10 sore throats will get better without antibiotics.

Over-the-counter painkillers can usually relieve the symptoms of a sore throat.

Babies and children

For babies and children, encourage them to drink water, juice or milk. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby will help ease their sore throat and will help keep them hydrated.

For younger children, an ice cube or a frozen juice cube can be soothing to suck on. It can also help to keep them hydrated.

Talk to your pharmacist to get advice about pain relief for your child's sore throat.

Adults

Try to avoid hot food and hot drinks as this could irritate your throat. Eat cool, soft food and drink cool or warm (not hot) liquids.

To help relieve the pain and discomfort of a sore throat, it can help to use:

  • paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • medicated lozenges or anaesthetic sprays
  • medicated sprays - ask your pharmacist for advice

You can buy these from a supermarket or from a pharmacist without a prescription.

Antibiotics

GPs do not usually prescribe antibiotics for sore throats. This is because antibiotics will not usually relieve pain or help your symptoms. They won't speed up your recovery either.

Your GP will only prescribe them if they think you have a bacterial infection.

When to get help

Usually, you do not need to contact a GP or attend the emergency department, if you have a sore throat.

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • you have a sore throat and a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
  • your child or baby is not taking enough drinks or has dry nappies
  • you have a weak immune system
  • you're worried about your sore throat

A severe or long-lasting sore throat could be something like strep throat (a bacterial throat infection) or tonsillitis.

If you still have a sore throat after 2 weeks, it’s best to get it checked.

When to go to your emergency department

Immediate action required: Call 112 or 999, or go to your emergency department (ED) if:

  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you're drooling or can't swallow your saliva
  • your symptoms are severe and getting worse quickly
  • your baby is very sleepy, lethargic, not responding to you or difficult to wake

Going back to work or school

Do not go to work or send your child to school or creche with an infection. You can go back to work, school or creche when your symptoms have been gone for 48 hours.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 13 June 2019
Next review due: 13 June 2022