Sore throats & tonsillitis

Sore throats are very common and are often the first sign of a cold. They tend to get better on their own in less than a week and are usually nothing to worry about.


Symptoms of a sore throat 

Sore throats are usually caused by viruses (e.g. cold or flu) or by smoking. They're occasionally caused by bacteria. Symptoms include:

• Painful throat, especially when swallowing 
• Dry, scratchy throat 
• Redness in the back of the mouth 
• Bad breath 
• Mild cough 
• Swollen neck glands


Common causes of a sore throat

• A viral infection, such as the common cold or flu
• A bacterial infection, such as streptococcus (known as strep throat) 
• Allergies (to mould, dust or pollen, for example) 
• Smoking


Treating a sore throat

A sore throat generally lasts two to three days and gets better within a week. There are a few things you can try that may soothe a sore throat and quicken your recovery:

• Gargle with warm salty water 
• Drink plenty of water (six to eight glasses of fluids a day is a good goal for most people) but avoid hot drinks
• Eat cool or soft foods 
• Avoid smoking or smoky areas 
• Take rest 
• Suck ice cubes or hard sweets (although don’t give children anything small or hard to suck, to avoid the risk of choking) 

Ask your pharmacist which over-the-counter medicines (such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, medicated lozenges or anaesthetic sprays) could help relieve the pain or discomfort of your sore throat.


Tonsillitis & its symptoms

Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, which are two soft masses at the back of the throat. It's generally caused by a viral infection or, occasionally, a bacterial infection. It’s a common condition in children, but teenagers and adults can get it as well. 
Tonsillitis may feel like a severe cold or flu, with red and swollen tonsils, a sore throat and sometimes fever or coughing. Less frequently, you may have swollen or painful glands in your neck, white pus-filled spots on your tonsils or bad breath.


Treating tonsillitis

Mild tonsillitis will usually go away after three to four days. To ease symptoms, you can:

• Drink cool drinks that soothe the throat 
• Gargle with warm, salty water
• Take rest 
• Use lozenges, throat sprays and antiseptic solutions, as suggested by your pharmacist

If you have a severe case of tonsillitis that doesn't clear up on its own, visit your GP. If the infection is suspected to be bacterial, they may prescribe a course of antibiotics.


Strep throat & its symptoms

A sore throat that is particularly severe or long lasting could be strep throat, a type of bacterial throat infection. Common symptoms include:

• Sore, red throat 
• Fever
• Headache 
• Swollen lymph nodes (lumps) in the neck and under the jaw


Treating strep throat

If you think you might have strep throat, consult your GP for diagnosis and advice on treatment options. Your GP may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.


When should you see a GP for your sore throat?

• You've had a sore throat for over a week
• You often get sore throats 
• You have a sore throat with a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery 
• You have a weakened immune system (e.g. if you have HIV, are having chemotherapy, or are taking medicine that suppresses your immune system)
• You have white pus-filled spots on the tonsils or back of the throat
• You're experiencing strep throat symptoms, such as a sore throat accompanied by fever or swollen lymph nodes


Next steps

• To help soothe a sore throat, you can treat it with at-home remedies. Speak to your pharmacist for advice about which medicines may help
• If your symptoms worsen, last longer than a week or occur frequently, consult your GP