What is sore throat?
A sore throat is normally a symptom of a viral or occasionally bacterial infection. It can be caused by the viruses responsible for colds and flu-like illnesses. Antibiotics cannot be used to treat a virus.
Sometimes a sore throat is 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
Your body will normally fight off the infection within a week without the need for medical treatment. But if the sore throat is caused by bacteria, you may benefit from antibiotics.
Pharyngitis is inflammation of the pharynx - the back of the throat. This can cause a sore throat, as well as scratchiness in the throat and difficulty swallowing. Pharyngitis is more common in the colder months.
Self-care of a sore throat
If you are looking after yourself, the tips below may help relieve the symptoms:
- Gargle with warm, salty water.
- Drink hot water with honey and lemon.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rest and avoid heavy activity until symptoms go away.
- Keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
- 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).
See your doctor if:
- your sore throat becomes worse
- your sore throat does not improve after five days
- you are concerned.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your sore throat, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: April 2017