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Having a sore throat is very common. The discomfort can range from a scratchy feeling to severe pain.
Sore throats are usually caused by virus infections like colds or the flu.
When to see your doctor
You must see your GP if you or a family member experiences any of the following:
- A sore throat that lasts more than a few days
- Difficulty swallowing
- Your tonsils are enlarged or coated
- A high temperature (above 39°C)
- Swelling in your neck
- Earache or joint pain.
Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.
Sometimes a sore throat is caused by Streptococcus bacteria (strep throat), which can lead to rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever is a serious illness because it can cause heart damage.
Rheumatic fever is a particular problem in New Zealand. Risk factors for include:
- living in poorer parts of areas in the North Island, such as parts of Northland, Auckland, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty/Rotorua, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Wellington
- being Māori or Pacific
- being between 3 and 45 years old
- having had acute rheumatic fever in the past.
People at risk of rheumatic fever who have a sore throat should see a doctor – you’ll probably be given penicillin (or a similar antibiotic).
Scarlet fever is the same illness as strep throat, but with a skin rash.
Scarlet fever can also lead to rheumatic fever – and to other illnesses, like pneumonia or infections.
The main symptom of scarlet fever is a red rash that feels rough. It usually begins on your chest, spreading to your neck, abdomen and arms.
People with scarlet fever may have flushed checks and a red or white ‘strawberry tongue’.
If you or a family member has this type of rash and a sore throat, get to the doctor quickly so they can check it out.
Having a sore throat is also one of the symptoms of glandular fever – along with fever and swollen glands in the neck.
Other symptoms of glandular fever include headache, feeling generally unwell, joint pains, tiredness, and loss of appetite.
Glandular fever generally isn’t serious but it can cause tiredness and loss of energy for a longer period – even up to a few months.
If you think you or a family member may have glandular fever, you should see your doctor.
If you have a sore throat, some of these things may help:
- Drink more fluids. (Drinking through a straw may hurt less.)
- Eat soft foods that are easy to swallow. Don’t eat spicy, salty or acidic foods.
- Try cold fluids, ice blocks, or honey and lemon juice in hot water.
- Gargle with warm salt water (1/2 tsp salt in 200ml water).
- Suck on hard sweets or throat lozenges.
- Take pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (as directed by your doctor or pharmacist).
- Breathe warm, humidified air.
- If you feel hoarse or lose your voice, rest your throat by talking less until it improves.
Taking care with medicines
- Remember that some medicines aren’t safe for children, or for women during pregnancy.
- Always read the instructions and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure.
- If you’re given penicillin or other antibiotics, you must take all the medicine you’re given – even after you’re feeling better.
To stop the infection spreading or coming back:
- Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
- Avoid close physical contact such as kissing, and don’t share eating or drinking utensils (eg, cups or knives and forks).