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Treating a Sore Throat

Note: This article is over 60 days old, and may contain information that is out of date, or has been superseded by newer information.

Sore throats have multiple causes, but in 85–95% of cases, the culprit is a viral infection. This means that up to 95% of sore throats will go away on their own, without antibiotics, usually within 7 to 10 days.

Try home remedies to help ease your pain while the sore throat runs its course.

  • Drink warm liquids.
  • Gargle with warm, salty water (about 1 tsp. of salt per glass of water).
  • Suck on throat lozenges or hard candy.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the air and help a dry throat.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®). Avoid giving aspirin to children.

When does a sore throat require a trip to your doctor? Be sure to call your health care provider if you experience any of the following:

  • severe difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • excessive drooling in a young child
  • fever, especially 101° F. or greater
  • tender or swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • pus in the back of the throat
  • a red rash that feels rough, and increased redness in the skin folds

If your doctor suspects a bacterial infection (such as strep), he or she may perform a rapid strep test or take a throat culture. If an antibiotic is prescribed, be sure to complete the entire course—even if you feel well.