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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Sore throats & tonsillitis

Most sore throats are caused by viruses, and get better by themselves with no treatment other than pain relief.

However, some sore throats are caused by a bacteria called streptococcus. This is known as strep throat, and we can treat this with antibiotics. In a few cases strep throat leads to a more serious illness called rheumatic fever.

Strep throat is more common in children and teenagers.


Māori and Pasifika people are more likely to develop rheumatic fever. If you belong to one of these groups get a doctor to check your sore throat straight away (within one day if possible). If you aren't from one of these groups but your symptoms are getting worse, or your sore throat doesn't get better after a week to 10 days, see your doctor.

When looking for what's causing your sore throat, your doctor or nurse may take a throat swab (a cotton bud that gently touches the back of your throat) to check for strep throat.


If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for your sore throat it's important to take them all, for the entire 10 days. This is to stop you from getting rheumatic fever.

Scarlet fever is strep throat with a skin rash. Scarlet fever can also lead to rheumatic fever, so if you have a sore throat and a skin rash you should see your doctor straight away.

Glandular fever can also cause sore throats, especially in teenagers and young adults.

How long should my sore throat last?

Sore throats often gets worse over the first two or three days and then gradually get better after a week to 10 days.

What can I do to help my sore throat?

You can buy pain-relieving medicines such as paracetamol or NSAIDs from a pharmacy. Talk to your pharmacist about whether these are right for you. They can help ease your pain, and help you eat and drink more comfortably. Some people find gargles, sprays or lozenges helpful to ease a sore throat.

Make sure you drink enough fluid so you don’t get dehydrated.

Antibiotics don't work for viral sore throats. They're only needed for a strep throat.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Tonsillitis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2017.

See also:

Fever (high temperature) in children

Hoarse voice

Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease


Page reference: 52903

Review key: HISTT-17240