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Sore throat
Ear, nose and throat
A sore throat, known medically as pharyngitis, is a very common condition usually caused by a viral infection but sometimes by a bacterial infection. It can be very uncomfortable for the sufferer but usually only lasts a few days and is normally over within a week.
A sore throat is most often caused by a viral infection however an infection with streptococcal bacteria can sometimes be the cause. A sore throat can also be the symptom of another illness, for example colds, influenza, tonsillitis, glandular fever or mumps.
The term 'sore throat' is generally taken to mean one or more symptoms that make the throat feel sore, swollen and painful when swallowing. Other symptoms include swollen glands, a hoarse voice or a slight cough. If the sore throat is a symptom of a cold or influenza, other symptoms such as a high temperature and a headache may also be present.
Relief of sore throat symptoms can be achieved by drinking plenty of fluids to help lubricate the throat to make swallowing and talking easier. Sucking boiled sweets or throat pastilles stimulates the flow of saliva that can also help ease symptoms. If the throat is particularly sore, pastilles or sprays containing the local anaesthetic benzocaine or lidocaine can help bring relief. Paracetamol or ibuprofen taken orally, or flurbiprofen sucked in the form of a lozenge, will help ease pain. Preparations containing codeine and dihydrocodeine should not be used to treat a sore throat as they are not considered appropriate and may cause addiction if taken for more than 3 days.
When to see your pharmacist
There is a huge range of sore throat pastilles and sprays available from your local pharmacy without the need for a prescription. Choice is usually based on personal taste for the various flavours used, but all work in a basically similar way to help lubricate the throat. Certain preparations should not be used by children or those who are sensitive to aspirin-like products or local anaesthetics so it is important that you tell the pharmacist who the medicine is for and whether the person has any allergies or other illnesses.
When to see your doctor
A sore throat will usually get better by itself within a week. If you think that your symptoms are not getting better, you should see your doctor.
Living with a sore throat
Although troublesome, most sore throats do not require treatment and will normally get better on their own within a few days. Drink plain water at frequent intervals to keep your throat moist and to help swallowing. Try to avoid talking, but if you must talk, speak quietly and gently to avoid pressure on your throat.

If you suck throat pastilles or lozenges, or drink fruit juice, carbonated drinks, tea and coffee to ease your throat, remember to brush your teeth regularly to reduce the chances of tooth decay.

As most sore throats are caused by a virus, there is no point in going to see your doctor for antibiotics as they are not effective against viral throat infections. However, if your sore throat does not get better or gets worse, you may have a bacterial infection that may require a visit to your doctor.
Useful Tips
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • If you smoke, try to give up
  • Antibiotics are not necessary, unless bacteria cause the sore throat
  • Do not take analgesics regularly or for long periods