Written by Dr Claudia Pastides, 15th March 2019
Around 30% of adults will suffer with a sore throat every year1. It is most common in children and young adults. Sore throats are usually as a result of a viral or bacterial infection, with a small handful due to uncommon non-infectious causes.
Common causes of a sore throat include2:
- The flu (Influenza A and B)
- Common cold viruses (rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus)
- Strep throat (Group A beta-haemolytic streptococcus)
- Epstein-Barr virus (glandular fever)
Less common causes include:
- Irritation (for example to smoke)
- Hay Fever
- Acid reflux
Symptoms vary depending on the cause. The more common symptoms include:
- Painful swallowing
- Enlarged and tender neck glands
- Fever (in sore throats caused by an infection)
- Blocked or runny nose and cough (common cold)
- Headache, muscle aches and pains, feeling weak, fever (flu)
Treatment depends on the cause of your sore throat. 85% of bacterial and viral sore throats get better within 7 days2 without any treatment. Glandular fever can take a bit longer to improve.
The treatment usually recommended is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take over the counter painkillers. It is a good idea to speak to a pharmacist for advice.
When to speak to a doctor
Complications due to a sore throat are generally rare, however occasionally you can go on to develop:
- A middle ear infection (otitis media)
- Quinsy (an abscess around one of the tonsils, which usually presents with one-sided neck swelling)
It is important to seek medical advice if you have:
- A high fever that isn’t improving with over the counter medicine
- Severe headache
- Confusion or decreased consciousness
- Neck stiffness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Health conditions that can make you more susceptible to infections (such as diabetes, immunosuppression)
A sudden sore throat, fever, muffled voice, drooling and stridor (noisy breathing) could be epiglottitis. Epiglottitis is a medical emergency and you should call 999 for urgent assistance.
Sore throats can often be initially managed via a digital consultation. If the GP decides you need a face to face appointment, they will discuss what steps you can take next.
Tonsillitis - https://www.babylonhealth.com/what-we-treat/tonsillitis
Glandular fever - https://www.babylonhealth.com/what-we-treat/glandular-fever
- Kenealy T. Sore throat. BMJ Clin Evid. 2011;2011:1509. Published 2011 Jan 13.
2. NICE Sore throat - acute https://cks.nice.org.uk/sore-t... [online] Last revised June 2018 Date Accessed 15/3/2019
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.