Medical information for patients

Sore throat

A sore throat may often be the first symptom of a cold or 'flu, but sometimes comes on in its own right. Most frequently, the cause is a virus, but in a sizeable minority of cases, the cause is bacterial.


Often a sore throat is associated with enlarged, tender glands in the neck, and this need not cause concern. They signify the body's defensive response to attacking infection, and subside after the infection has gone.

Other symptoms may be headache and fever. There is often some sensation of neck stiffness associated with the glands in the neck, but if this is a prominent feature, then you should consult a doctor in order to rule out meningitis.


Most commonly sore throats are caused by viruses, for example adenoviruses, influenza, and sometimes glandular fever (infectious mononucleosis). Many other viruses may cause sore throats as well as bacteria such as streptococcus.

There are other causes of sore throat, including thrush (candida), which is sometimes a complication of treatment with antibiotics or steroids, and also other, rarer problems. If your sore throat continues for more than a week, or you have any other reason for particular concern, then it is wise to contact your doctor for advice.


On most occasions it is not helpful, or advisable to take an antibiotic, as viruses predominate, and there is no cure for a virus, furthermore antibiotics have the potential for side-effects, which can, on occasion, be serious.

Some throat infections are bacterial, and these would respond to an antibiotic, but it is impossible to predict from the look of the throat, or the degree of pain, whether the cause is a bacterium. Most viruses subside in a few days, and therefore the longer the infection has lasted, the more likely it may be that an antibiotic might work.

Certainly, on most occasions, there is little to be gained by seeing the doctor, and symptom relief is all that you require, while nature effects a cure:

If, however, symptoms are persisting, severe or worsening in spite of symptomatic treatment, consult your doctor.


This is the infection of the tonsils, which are two lumps of tissue on each side of the back of the throat. They are composed of the same sort of tissue that makes up the glands (lymph nodes) that become enlarged during infections, and they are part of the body's natural defence system.

However if they become badly infected, they are associated with fever, headache and feeling generally very unwell. At the same time, the glands in the neck are often enlarged and tender, and merely signify the body's proper reaction to the challenge of infection.

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