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Symptoms of a sore throat

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Symptoms and signs of a sore throat include:

  • swollen tonsils (two small glands found at the back of your throat, behind the tongue)
  • enlarged and tender glands in your neck
  • a painful, tender feeling at the back of your throat
  • discomfort when swallowing

If you have a sore throat, you may also experience a number of other symptoms that are associated with common infectious conditions, such as:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
  • aching muscles
  • a headache
  • tiredness
  • a cough
  • a runny nose

These other symptoms will depend on what infection is causing your sore throat.

When to visit your GP

If you have a sore throat, make an appointment to see your GP if:

  • your symptoms do not improve after two weeks
  • you have frequent sore throats that do not respond to painkillers, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin
  • you have a persistent fever, a temperature that is above 38C (100.4F) which medication does not reduce

It is important to investigate the cause of your temperature because it may be the result of a more serious condition, such as:

  • epiglottitis: inflammation (swelling and redness) of the epiglottis (the flap of tissue at the back of the throat, underneath the tongue) which, if left untreated, can cause breathing difficulties
  • quinsy: an abscess (painful collection of pus) that develops between the back of the tonsil and the wall of the throat

At-risk groups

While most sore throats can be treated at home, some people are more at risk than others of developing complications from a sore throat and may need additional treatment.

See your GP at the first sign of infection if you:

  • have HIV and AIDS (a virus that attacks your immune system, the body's defence system)
  • have leukaemia (cancer of the bone marrow)
  • have asplenia (your spleen, an organ behind your stomach, does not work properly or has been removed)
  • have aplastic anaemia (when your bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells)
  • are receiving chemotherapy (a treatment for cancer)
  • are taking an immunosuppressant medicine (medicine that stops your immune system working), for example because you have had an organ transplant
  • are taking an antithyroid medication (medication to stop your thyroid gland producing too many hormones), such as carbimazole
  • are taking a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), for example to treat arthritis (a common condition that causes inflammation in the joints and bones)

Do not stop taking a prescription medication unless advised to by your GP.

Bone marrow

Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue in the centre of bones that produces blood cells.


The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that is located towards the back of the throat and sits underneath the tongue.


Hormones are groups of powerful chemicals that are produced by the body and have a wide range of effects.


Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.

Immune system

The immune system is the body's defence system, which helps protect it from disease, bacteria and viruses.


Two small glands found at the back of your throat, behind the tongue.
Medical Review: April 27, 2010

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