Management of a sore throat
Sore throats are usually caused by virus infections like colds or the flu.
When to see your doctor
You must see your GP if you or a family member experiences any of the following:
- a sore throat that lasts more than a few days
- difficulty swallowing
- your tonsils are enlarged or coated
- a high temperature (above 39°C)
- swelling in your neck
- earache or joint pain.
If your child is Māori or Pacific, is aged four and above, and has a sore throat, please get it checked straight away. They are at risk of a serious but preventable illness called rheumatic fever.
Call us on 5422450 or Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.
Sometimes a sore throat is caused by Streptococcus bacteria (strep throat), which can lead to rheumatic fever if it is not treated with antibiotics. Rheumatic fever is a serious illness because it can cause heart damage.
Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It mainly affects Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 and above), especially if they have other family members who have had rheumatic fever.
Sore throats need checking
Rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat that is known as ‘strep throat’ – a throat infection caused by a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus.
Most sore throats get better on their own, but if strep throat is not treated with antibiotics it can cause rheumatic fever in at-risk children. Because rheumatic fever is such a serious illness, all sore throats in Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 and above) need to be checked.
Effects of rheumatic fever
Rheumatic fever makes the heart, joints (elbows and knees), brain and skin swollen and painful.
Rheumatic fever is an ‘autoimmune disease’, which means there is a problem with the immune system (the cells and organs that protect the body against illnesses and infections).
Rheumatic fever happens when your child’s immune system makes a mistake and attacks your child’s heart instead of the germs from an illness.
While the symptoms of rheumatic fever may disappear on their own, the inflammation can cause rheumatic heart disease, where there is scarring of the heart valves. Rheumatic heart disease can be life threatening.
If your child has rheumatic fever
If your child develops rheumatic fever they will need a lot of bed rest and time off school. They’ll need to stay in hospital for weeks, where they will have examinations and blood tests to check their condition.
Rheumatic fever can affect your child’s life, making it more difficult for them to play sport or do other activities as they will have less energy.
Rheumatic heart disease
If your child has more attacks of rheumatic fever then they may develop rheumatic heart disease. This can cause serious heart problems, damaging your child’s heart forever. Your child may need heart surgery.
Because rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat, it’s important that your child’s sore throats get checked. If your child is Māori or Pacific, is aged 4 and above, and has a sore throat, please get it checked straight away.
If your child has strep throat, they’ll be given antibiotics to clear up the infection before it can develop into rheumatic fever.
Sore throat clinics
If you're in the Bay of Plenty, your child is Māori or Pacific, aged 4 to 19 years and has a sore throat, they can have it checked at one of these free sore throat clinics. Our nearest clinic is 2nd Ave Accident & Medical Centre.
|Accident and Healthcare Medical Centre||(07) 577 0010||19 Second Avenue, Tauranga||Monday and Thursday, 6.00-8.00pm|
Scarlet fever is the same illness as strep throat, but with a skin rash.
Scarlet fever can also lead to rheumatic fever – and to other illnesses, like pneumonia or infections.
The main symptom of scarlet fever is a red rash that feels rough. It usually begins on your chest, spreading to your neck, abdomen and arms.
People with scarlet fever may have flushed checks and a red or white ‘strawberry tongue’.
If you or a family member has this type of rash and a sore throat, get to the doctor quickly so they can check it out.
Rheumatic fever usually starts 1–5 weeks after your child has had strep throat.
Your child may develop:
- sore and swollen joints (knees, elbows, ankles and wrists). Joints may feel hot as well; different joints may be sore on different days
- an ongoing fever that lasts a few days.
If your child has these symptoms take them to the doctor or nurse straight away to get them checked.
They may also have:
- stomach pains
- extreme tiredness
- weight loss
- an unusual-looking rash on their body, arms and legs.
Living with Rheumatic Fever
Rheumatic fever is likely to come back in people who don’t take low-dose antibiotics continually, especially in the first 3–5 years after the first episode of the disease. Your child will need extra medical care for many years, including 10 years of monthly penicillin (antibiotic) injections.
Depending on how serious the first episode of the disease is, some children may develop heart disease. They may not be able to exercise or play sports – talk to your doctor about what is best for your child.
Heart complications may be serious, particularly if the heart valves are involved. If your child develops heart disease, they will need care from a cardiologist (heart doctor).
Some children may need antibiotics before having dental work done. This helps reduce the chance of infection reaching the heart during the dental procedure. Talk to your child’s doctor or dentist for more information.
Having a sore throat is also one of the symptoms of glandular fever – along with fever and swollen glands in the neck.
Other symptoms of glandular fever include headache, feeling generally unwell, joint pains, tiredness, and loss of appetite.
Glandular fever generally isn’t serious but it can cause tiredness and loss of energy for a longer period – even up to a few months.
If you think you or a family member may have glandular fever, you should see your doctor.
If you have a sore throat, some of these things may help:
- Drink more fluids. (Drinking through a straw may hurt less.)
- Eat soft foods that are easy to swallow. Don’t eat spicy, salty or acidic foods.
- Try cold fluids, ice blocks, or honey and lemon juice in hot water.
- Gargle with warm salt water (1/2 tsp salt in 200ml water).
- Suck on hard sweets or throat lozenges.
- Take pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (as directed by your doctor or pharmacist).
- Breathe warm, humidified air.
- If you feel hoarse or lose your voice, rest your throat by talking less until it improves.
Taking care with medicines
- Remember that some medicines aren’t safe for children, or for women during pregnancy.
- Always read the instructions and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure.
- If you’re given penicillin or other antibiotics, you must take all the medicine you’re given – even after you’re feeling better.
To stop the infection spreading or coming back:
- Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
- Avoid close physical contact such as kissing, and don’t share eating or drinking utensils (eg, cups or knives and forks).