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Self Care for Sore Throats

That painful, raw feeling in the back of the throat is an extremely common symptom with a variety of causes, such as

  • Viral Infections (most common infectious cause, over 90%)
  • Bacterial Infections
  • Allergies
  • Postnasal Drainage
  • Smoking
  • Overuse of Voice
  • Mouth Breathing
  • Air Pollution
  • Dry Air

Antibiotic Treatment of Sore Throats

Sore throats caused by infections with a virus, such as common cold viruses, or the Epstein-Barr virus which causes “Mono”, do not need antibiotic treatment, since antibiotics are not effective against viral infections.  Some bacterial throat infections may respond to antibiotic treatment.  One bacterial cause of a sore throat that does respond to antibiotic treatment is the streptococcal bacteria (“strep throat”).  It is more common in children ages 4 to 11, and is less common in older children and adults. Symptoms of strep throat often include the following:

  • Fever of 100° or higher
  • White or yellow coating on the tonsils
  • Swollen and/or tender lymph nodes in the neck

It is sometimes difficult to determine if a sore throat is caused by a bacteria or a virus.  The presence of a cough or other cold symptoms along with the symptoms above strongly suggests that the sore throat is NOT caused by strep, and antibiotic treatment is usually not prescribed if these other symptoms are present.

What can I do to ease the discomfort of a sore throat?

Regardless of the cause of the sore throat, there are many things you can do to help relieve the discomfort:

  • Pain relieving medicines: acetaminophen (Tylenol) 500-1,000 mg every 6 hours (Maximum dose of 3,000 mg in 24 hours) and/or ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) 600 mg with food every 6-8 hours as needed for pain relief. Be careful to avoid taking multi-symptom cold medicine that contains acetaminophen (Tylenol) with any other acetaminophen-may cause overdose.
  • Drink more fluids (non-alcoholic), such as water, licorice root tea or hot tea with honey, broth, fruit juices, etc.
  • Get extra rest.
  • Salt water gargles (1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in 8 oz. of warm water – gargle and spit it out – do not swallow).
  • Sore throat lozenges (Cepastat, N’Ice, Sucrets, etc.) or hard candy dissolved in the mouth.
  • Anesthetic sprays, such as Cepastat or Chloraseptic.
  • Popsicles can help decrease a fever and increase fluids while soothing a sore throat.
  • Decongestants, such as Pseudoephedrine 30-60 mg every four to six hours, if needed for nasal congestion.
  • If you smoke, QUIT, or at least cut down.  Smoking irritates the throat and prolongs symptoms. For help to quit smoking: call 812-855-7338 to meet with a Health & Wellness professional.

See a health care provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A severe sore throat with drooling or difficulty breathing.
  • A fever of 100° or higher.
  • White or yellow coating on the tonsils.
  • Swollen glands in the neck.
  • Severe pain with swallowing, that interferes with eating or drinking.
  • Symptoms lasting longer than one week.
  • A rash with a sore throat.
  • A history of rheumatic fever.


To avoid the spread of viruses and bacteria that can cause sore throats, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes and mouth, and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.