Sore Throat Treatment

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Sore Throat

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A sore throat is a very common condition and is usually caused by an infection in the throat. In 82% of cases, the symptoms will settle within 7 days without antibiotics. Many infections are mild, will get better quickly and do not need any specific treatment. Unnecessary use of antibiotics may cause side effects and may increase the incidence of antibiotic resistance. You can speak to your pharmacist for further advice on over-the-counter treatments available to help you manage your sore throat.

Types of throat infections include acute pharyngitis and acute tonsillitis. Acute pharyngitis is an infection of the throat and is most commonly caused by viruses, however, some can be caused by bacteria. Acute tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The tonsils are glandular tissue at the back of the throat and are part of the immune system. 

Symptoms of a throat infection tend to worsen over 2-3 days and then gradually settle, usually within a week. The infection spreads through coughing, sneezing or breathing droplets which are infected with the germs. If these viruses or bacteria are breathed in by someone else then it may be passed on. The infection can also be spread through contact. This includes direct contact with another person or through indirect contact such touching surfaces contaminated with the germs. 

If your throat infection is worsening or not improving then you may want to 'Start a Diagnosis' with i-GP or see your own GP. Antibiotic treatments we may prescribe if clinically appropriate:

Please see Common Treatments below for further information.

Common Symptoms

The commonest symptom of a throat infection is a sore throat. Other symptoms may include:

  • difficulty in swallowing
  • fever
  • cough
  • headache
  • swollen glands
  • earache
  • tiredness
Common Treatments

Most throat infections are viral, do not require antibiotics, and will improve within a week on their own. Common treatments for the symptoms include paracetamol, ibuprofen, and throat lozenges which can help with the pains and fever. You can seek further advice about such over the counter treatments from your local pharmacy.

Possible treatments we prescribe if clinically appropriate:

*Prices shown are cost price of the medication, taken from the British National Formulary 2018, and are given as a guideline. Pharmacies will add a dispensing fee to this which will vary considerably, so it is worthwhile phoning around to compare prices. The medication is paid for at your chosen pharmacy. 

Please click on the medication above to read the Patient Information Leaflet for important information about each drug. We use national prescribing guidelines to select which treatment would be most appropriate for your condition. 

Self-help for the symptoms

There are certain treatments that you can try at home which may help you to manage your symptoms.

Pain medication 

  • such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Read the leaflet that comes with the medication to check its suitability. This can help with the pain and fever.

Over-the-counter gargles, lozenges, and sprays 

  • may help to soothe a sore throat but they do not shorten the illness.

Drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated

  • drink lots of cool or warm fluids, and avoid very hot drinks
  • suck on ice cubes or ice lollies 

Gargling with salt water

  • mix half a teaspoon of salt with 250ml of warm water and gargle. However, do not to swallow the water.
When to seek further medical advice

If after trying over-the-counter treatments, your symptoms worsen, you develop swollen tonsils with pus or your symptoms do not ease within a week, then you should seek further medical advice. You may wish to 'Start a Diagnosis' with i-GP or see your own GP. 

Symptoms unsuitable for i-GP

There are certain symptoms that may be present with a sore throat that suggests you should see a doctor in person, as soon as possible. You will require a physical assessment and you may require further investigations.

  • severe pain
  • a persistent high temperature (fever) which does not settle
  • a severe illness, especially when symptoms are mainly on one side of the throat

If you develop any of the symptoms below, then you must seek urgent medical advice immediately (from your GP, Out of Hours Service, Urgent care centre, NHS 111). Call an ambulance or go to A&E if the symptoms are severe.

  • difficulty swallowing saliva or opening your mouth.
  • difficulty in breathing
  • stridor (noisy breathing)
  • chest pain
  • a severe headache
  • drowsiness or confusion
  • persistent vomiting
  • neck stiffness
  • a non-blanching rash 

Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics should be used responsibly and only when really necessary. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where the antibiotic becomes less effective at treating certain types of bacterial infection, so they do not work when needed. 

Antibiotics should be taken as prescribed, and it is important to complete the full course, this can reduce the chance of the bacteria developing an immunity to that antibiotic. It is important not to share antibiotics, and always take unused medication to your local pharmacy for disposal.


NICE CKS Acute Sore throat July 2015; Sore Throat 

Respiratory tract infections (self-limiting): prescribing antibiotics; NICE Clinical Guideline (July 2008)

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throat infection that requires treatment?

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