Sore throat: self-care

General Information

A sore throat makes swallowing difficult and painful. Your throat may feel dry and look red, and your voice may sound hoarse. Sore throat is common because it is associated with the common cold.

A sore throat can be caused by bacteria or viruses and will usually clear up on its own after a few days. Antibiotics are not usually needed. However, sore throats may be due to streptococcal bacteria (one cause of tonsillitis). If this type of infection in children and adolescents is not treated it can sometimes lead to rheumatic fever (an inflammatory disease that can affect many organs of the body).

Sore throats can also be caused by stomach acid reflux, by something lodged in your throat or by smoke irritation.

See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

  • if the person with the sore throat is under 12 years old
  • if you have difficulty breathing or talking
  • if you have a high fever, i.e. a temperature above 39°C (or 38°C for children)
  • if you have an earache, swollen glands, a rash or have been vomiting
  • if you have fatigue or malaise
  • if your sore throat has lasted for more than a week, or keeps coming back
  • if you have swallowing problems that have lasted for more than two weeks
  • if it is difficult to swallow because your throat feels blocked
  • if there are white spots of pus on your tonsils or the back of your mouth
  • if there are white patches inside your mouth, especially if you have diabetes or asthma and use a steroid (preventer) inhaler, as this may be a sign of oral thrush
  • if you are taking prescription medications; in rare cases, a sore throat can be a sign of serious side effects
  • if you have an artificial heart valve or have had endocarditis or rheumatic fever

Treatment Tips

  • taking a pain relief medicine regularly will ease the pain
  • sucking on an ice cube or gargling a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of salt dissolved in it may help
  • throat lozenges, syrups, sprays and gargles can reduce discomfort. Some of these contain sugar and can lead to tooth decay; however, sugar-free varieties are an alternative
  • drink plenty of fluids and choose soft foods to make swallowing easier
  • avoid smoking; it can make a sore throat feel worse

Treatment Options

Oral pain relief medicines (analgesics)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. paracetamol, packets of 24 or fewer (Panadol range), aspirin (Aspro range, Disprin range); ibuprofen, packets of 24 or fewer (Advil Tablets, Advil Liquid Caps, Nurofen range)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen, larger pack sizes (Advil Tablets, Advil Liquid Caps, Dymadon, Dymadon P, Nurofen, Panadol, Panafen IB, Panamax, Paracetamol Sandoz, Rafen); paracetamol liquid preparations (Dymadon Drops, Dymadon Suspension, Panadol (Children)); ibuprofen liquid preparations (Dimetapp Children's Ibuprofen Pain & Fever Relief Suspension, Dimetapp Infant's Ibuprofen Colour Free Pain & Fever Relief Suspension, iProfen Suspension for Children, Nurofen for Children, Nurofen for Children Infant Drops), diclofenac (Voltaren Rapid 12.5), naproxen (Aleve, Naprogesic, Nurolasts)

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. Voltaren Rapid 25

  • paracetamol, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) relieve pain and reduce fever. Aspirin and NSAIDs (which include ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen) also reduce inflammation (swelling)
  • soluble aspirin can be used as a gargle to treat a sore throat
  • paracetamol and NSAIDs can be used together as they work differently (they are usually given at different times; see your pharmacist for dosing advice)
  • paracetamol is a safe choice for most people but it is important not to take more than recommended. It is an ingredient in many cold and flu remedies so be careful not to double dose. The maximum daily dose of paracetamol for an adult is 4 g (4000 mg), and no more than 1 g (1000 mg) every four hours. It is important to dose children by their weight and to follow the manufactures instructions on dosage
  • aspirin and NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone. Children under 12 years old must not take aspirin because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition. It should also be avoided by adolescents under 16 years old who have a viral illness
  • check with your pharmacist before taking aspirin or NSAIDs if you:
    • have a history of stomach problems, such as ulcers or indigestion
    • have asthma; some people with asthma find their condition is made worse by these types of medicines
    • have kidney problems or a heart condition
    • take other medications
    • have an allergy to aspirin or NSAIDs
    • are pregnant or breastfeeding
    • are elderly; you may be at more risk of side effects
    • are dehydrated
  • sometimes aspirin and NSAIDs can cause side effects. It is important to take these products with a glass of water and food to minimise heartburn. If you develop indigestion, or unusual or increased bleeding or bruising, stop taking them and talk to your pharmacist

Local treatments

  • lozenges, sprays and gargles (local treatments) can help fight bacteria and viruses, reduce inflammation or numb the pain
  • some treatments are not suitable for children, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • when using products containing a local anaesthetic, take care not to burn your mouth; it is harder to tell how hot food and drinks are

Local treatments (antivirals, antibacterials and antiseptic agent)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. Betadine Sore Throat Gargle, Cepacol Antibacterial Throat Lozenges, Strepsils range, Lemsip Lozenges

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Cepacol Cough +, Difflam lozenges, Difflam-C Anti-inflammatory Antiseptic Solution, Strepsils Cough Relief

  • these contain ingredients to help fight bacteria or viruses
  • some also contain local anaesthetics or anti-inflammatories to numb pain

Local treatments (anti-inflammatories, analgesics)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. benzydamine (Difflam Anti-inflammatory Throat Spray and lozenges, Logicin Rapid Relief Lozenges), flurbiprofen (Strepfen Intensive)

  • an analgesic helps to reduce pain and an anti-inflammatory reduces swelling
  • flurbiprofen is an NSAID (see above) and is not suitable for everyone
  • some products also contain ingredients to help fight bacteria or viruses

Local anaesthetics

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. Cepacaine, Strepsils Plus

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Xylocaine 2% Viscous

  • these products numb your throat and mouth and help ease the pain
  • some products also contain ingredients to help fight bacteria or viruses

More Information

Availability of medicines

  • GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
  • PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
  • PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.

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