Sore throat

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.


Causes

Common causes of a sore throat include2:

  • The flu (Ijavascript:void(null);nfluenza 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:

  • Measles
  • Thrush
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Irritation (for example to smoke)
  • Hay Fever
  • Acid reflux

Typical Symptoms

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)

Common Treatment

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)
  • Sinusitis
  • 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.


More information

Tonsillitis - https://www.gpathand.nhs.uk/what-we-treat/tonsillitis

Glandular fever - https://www.gpathand.nhs.uk/what-we-treat/glandular-fever

NHS - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sore-throat/


References

  1. 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