What are the symptoms of a throat infection?

Common symptoms of a sore throat include:

  • redness and swelling (inflammation) at the back of your throat causing pain, especially when you swallow
  • red, swollen tonsils (the ‘glands’ at the back of your throat; tonsillitis)
  • swollen ‘glands’ (lymph nodes) in your neck
  • pain in your ears or neck.

If your sore throat is caused by the cold or flu virus, you may also have some of the symptoms of a cold or flu including:

  • fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher)
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • tiredness
  • aching muscles and limbs.

Certain symptoms are more likely to suggest a throat infection caused by bacteria. Find out what these symptoms are.

How long will my symptoms last?

The symptoms of a sore throat will usually go away on their own within 3–7 days. If you are generally healthy, your body’s immune system will take care of the infection whether it is caused by a virus or bacteria.

Some people are more at risk of the complications of a throat infection and may need to be treated differently (see below).

If you have a sore throat that lasts for more than 3 or 4 weeks, see your doctor. You may need further tests to find out the cause.

Read about how you can relieve the symptoms of a sore throat and how to treat a fever.

People at risk of complications

While the symptoms of a sore throat can usually be treated at home, some people are more at risk of developing complications from a sore throat and may need to see their doctor. This includes people:

  • 2–25 years old living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who are at high risk of rheumatic fever (e.g. in central and northern Australia)
  • with heart problems caused by rheumatic fever
  • with scarlet fever
  • with a weakened immune system due to an illness such as HIV or leukaemia (cancer of the bone marrow)
  • who are taking medicines that suppress the immune system (e.g. after an organ transplant, chemotherapy for cancer, or for rheumatoid arthritis)
  • who have no spleen or whose spleen doesn’t work properly (as this reduces the body’s ability to fight infection)
  • with anaemia (when your bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells)
  • who are taking anti-thyroid medicines for an overactive thyroid gland (e.g. carbimazole). Carbimazole can decrease the number of white blood cells (leucopenia), which reduces the body’s ability to fight infection.

Always talk to your health professional if you are thinking about stopping any medicines.

References
  • Antibiotic Expert Group. Therapeutic guidelines: Antibiotic; Pharyngitis and/or tonsillitis. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Ltd; 2012.
  • NHS Choices. Sore throat — symptoms. London: NHS, 2010.
    www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sore-throat/Pages/Symptoms.aspx (accessed 4 May 2012).