- A sore throat will normally get better on its own within 10 days.
- It is often caused by a cold virus.
- Drinking cold water regularly can ease the pain.
- Sucking on a sweet can also ease the pain.
- For severe pain, take enough paracetamol at set times.
- Antibiotics usually do not help against a sore throat. They also have disadvantages. Read more about use of medication in the Netherlands.
- Sometimes a sore throat can be caused by coronavirus. See coronavirus (in Dutch).
- Dutch healthcare practices in general may differ from what you are used to in your home country. Learn more.
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What is a sore throat?
Everyone has a sore throat sometimes. A sore throat can simply feel unpleasant. But you may also feel sharp, severe pain. In that case, swallowing or talking can be difficult. A sore throat is often caused by a cold.
If you have a throat infection, the back of your throat is usually very red. Sometimes white patches or thick mucus are visible.
The glands in your neck can be swollen and sore. You can also have a fever.
What causes a sore throat?
A sore throat is usually caused by a cold virus. A sore throat caused by bacteria is less common.
A sore throat caused by a virus or bacteria is contagious. When you cough or talk, droplets of saliva (containing the virus) find their way to other people through the air.
Of 100 people who see their general practitioner with a sore throat, about 2 have a sore throat due to glandular fever (mononucleosis) (in Dutch).
A sore throat from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is even less common.
A sore throat can also have other causes, such as smoking, clearing your throat a lot, shouting a lot and breathing in dry air. This kind of sore throat is not contagious.
An enlarged thyroid gland can also cause a sore throat.
Is a sore throat something to worry about?
A sore throat is unpleasant, but is usually nothing to worry about. It usually gets better on its own within 10 days.
A sore throat can sometimes last longer if you constantly strain your throat by smoking, singing, shouting or talking a lot.
Sometimes a sore throat can be caused by coronavirus. See coronavirus (in Dutch).
What can you do about a sore throat yourself?
- Drinking cold water regularly can ease the pain.
- Sometimes sucking on something, like a sweet, can also ease the pain.
This will not make the throat infection itself clear up any faster.
- Special lozenges are not necessary. Although most lozenges do help ease the symptoms, it is not known whether they help better than sucking on something else, like a sweet. They are also more expensive.
Some lozenges contain NSAIDs (such as flurbiprofen ). These are painkillers that should not simply be taken indefinitely. They can also cause side effects. Therefore, doctors advise against using lozenges with NSAIDs. Check the package to see which ingredients are in a lozenge.
- Make sure to rest if you feel you need it. Especially if you have a fever and don’t feel well.
- Rest your voice, so talk as little as possible. If you do talk, talk normally and don’t whisper.
- A sore throat with a cold, cough or fever is usually contagious. The virus is in your saliva, mucus and snot.
There are a few things you can do to prevent spreading the virus to others:
- Keep your distance from others (when you cough or talk, the virus spreads through saliva droplets in the air, which transmits it to others).
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with your arm or a paper tissue. Throw the tissue away afterwards.
- Wash your hands regularly, also after using a tissue.
- Wash cups, glasses and cutlery properly after using them.
Medication for a sore throat (adults)
You can take paracetamol for the pain. Take the paracetamol at set times. If you have a lot of pain, you can take 2 x 500 mg tablets 4 times a day. If swallowing is very painful, ask for dissolvable tablets or liquid paracetamol. Read more at paracetamol (in Dutch).
If that amount of paracetamol does not help, you can try an NSAID (naproxen, ibuprofen or diclofenac). Attention: NSAIDs help against the pain, but they can have nasty side effects. They can cause severe stomach problems and influence the effect of other medications. Are you over 60 years old? Do you have gastrointestinal, cardiovascular or kidney problems? Are you taking medication? Or have you ever had an allergic reaction after taking an NSAID? Then check with your family doctor or pharmacy first before taking an NSAID. Read more at NSAIDs (in Dutch).
Antibiotics usually do not help against a sore throat, even if the sore throat is caused by bacteria.
- Antibiotics are not effective against an infection caused by a virus. An infection caused by a virus almost always clears up on its own.
- A normal sore throat caused by bacteria also almost always clears up on its own. Taking antibiotics only reduces the symptoms by half a day compared to letting the infection clear up on its own. So the advantage is only half a day. The disadvantages of antibiotics are the risks of:
- side effects
- allergic reactions and
- bacteria that become insensitive to antibiotics.
Read more about use of medication in the Netherlands here.
When to see the doctor for a sore throat (adults)
Call your general practitioner family doctor in the following situations:
- You are short of breath.
- You are wheezing or your breathing sounds abnormal and high-pitched (stridor).
- You have trouble drinking or swallowing.
- You start drooling.
- You can no longer open your mouth properly.
- You get sicker and sicker.
- You have symptoms on one side of your head (such as earache).
- if you have a chronic illness or use medication regularly (your immune system may then be weakened);
- if you doubt whether you can safely use an NSAID;
- if you still have a fever after 3 days;
- if the sore throat lasts longer than 10 days.
More information about sore throat
The information about sore throat is based on the scientific guideline for family doctors, the NHG-Standard 'Acute sore throat' (Acute keelpijn) (in Dutch).