Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Girl with sore throat

Girl with sore throat
beginning of content

Sore throat (pharyngitis)

4-minute read

A sore throat is one of the symptoms of COVID-19. Even if your symptoms are mild, get tested for COVID-19 immediately — use the colds and flu Symptom Checker if you're not sure what to do.

What is sore throat?

A sore throat, or pharyngitis, is when the throat is red, swollen and painful, especially when you swallow. It happens when the back of the throat, called the pharynx, is inflamed.

Usually, sore throats go away without treatment within 3 to 4 days. Seek medical attention if:

  • you have trouble breathing or swallowing (or if your baby is drooling)
  • you have a stiff or swollen neck
  • you have a high fever
  • you have a rash
  • you feel very unwell or the sore throat is getting worse

What are the symptoms of a sore throat?

If the sore throat is caused by a cold, you may also have a runny nose, cough, possibly fever and feel very tired.

If it’s a strep throat, other symptoms may include:

  • swollen glands in the neck
  • swollen red tonsils
  • rash
  • fever
  • tummy pain
  • vomiting

What causes a sore throat?

The most common cause of a sore throat is a virus like a cold or the flu, COVID-19 or glandular fever.

Less than 1 in 3 sore throats is caused by a bacterial infection. Some sore throats are caused by the bacteria Strepococcus pyogenes. This is sometimes called a strep throat. If bacteria are the cause, you tend to become very unwell and your infection seems to get much worse. If the sore throat is caused by bacteria, you may benefit from antibiotics.

Sometimes a sore throat can be caused by tonsillitis (the tonsils will be swollen), mouth ulcers or allergies.

Sore throats and children

Sore throats are very common in children. They are usually caused by a virus. The child will normally also have a runny rose, cough, sore ears, a fever, be tired and be off their food.

It is more likely to be strep throat if the child is older than 3 years and if they have swollen glands in the neck, swollen, red tonsils with white spots, a rash and vomiting.

If you’re not sure about your child’s symptoms, or you are worried, see your doctor.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the colds and flu Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How is a sore throat diagnosed?

If you or child has a sore throat and you are worried about the symptoms, see your doctor.

They will look at the throat with a torch and feel the neck for swollen glands. They may take a swab from the throat to determine the cause of infection. Swabs can test for a range of viruses and bacteria.

How is a sore throat treated?

There is no way to cure a sore throat that is caused by a virus. The sore throat should clear up in 5 to 7 days. In the meantime, you can ease the symptoms by taking pain relief medication. Adults and children older than 1 month can take paracetamol, and adults and children older than 3 months can take ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to children under 16.

If the sore throat is caused by bacteria, you may benefit from antibiotics.

Sore throat remedies and self-care

Over-the-counter medications might help, such as lozenges or throat gargles that contain local anaesthetic. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid products that contain iodine (such as Betadine®). Your pharmacist can give you more information.

Eating soft foods such as ice cream, ice blocks or jelly, can help.

To ease a scratchy throat, try gargling with warm, salty water or drinking hot water with honey and lemon. Warm or iced drinks and ice blocks may be soothing.

Avoid foods that cause pain when you swallow. Try eating soft foods such as yoghurt, soup or ice cream.

It is important to stay well hydrated so drink plenty of water. If you have an existing medical condition, check with your doctor about how much water is right for you.

Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and rest and avoid heavy activity until symptoms go away.

Smoking or breathing in other people’s smoke can make symptoms worse. Try to avoid being around people who are smoking. If you are a smoker, try to cut down or quit. For advice on quitting smoking, visit the Quit Now website.

Find out more about self-care tips if you have a high temperature (fever).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Sore throat: symptoms & treatment for kids | Raising Children Network

Children often get sore throats. If your child has a sore throat, it’s wise to take your child to the GP. A sore throat is sometimes called pharyngitis.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Streptococcal infection - group A - Better Health Channel

Streptococcal infection ? group A can cause sore throats (pharyngitis), scarlet fever or impetigo (school sores).

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Sore throat: self-care - MyDr.com.au

A sore throat makes swallowing difficult and painful. Sore throat is common because it is associated with the common cold. Find out what products are available for sore throat.

Read more on myDr website

Sore throat - MyDr.com.au

Sore throats: symptoms, causes, tests and when you should seek medical advice.

Read more on myDr website

Sore throat | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is a sore throat? Sore throats are a very common illness in infants and children

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Sore throat treatments - MyDr.com.au

Find out about sore throat treatments including self-help measures, painkillers, lozenges, and when antibiotics are needed.

Read more on myDr website

Streptococcal sore throat | SA Health

Streptococcal sore throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils caused by Streptococcus pyogenes.

Read more on SA Health website

Sore throat: what you need to know - MyDr.com.au

Most of us know what a sore throat feels like - pain or irritation in your throat that’s often worse when you swallow.

Read more on myDr website

Sore throat: should I take antibiotics? | Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care

Sore throat: should I take antibiotics? Downloads Sore throat: should I take antibiotics? Publication year 2016 Resource type Guide, user guide or guidelines Topics Antimicrobial resistance, use and stewardship Health conditions, diseases and treatments

Read more on Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care website

What every parent should know about coughs, colds, earaches and sore throats - NPS MedicineWise

Children's coughs, colds, earaches and sore throats can worry you and make them miserable. Find out how to help your child feel better, and when to seek further advice. 

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo