On this page

Viral vs bacterial throat infection- what's the difference?

women touching her neck and holding a mug
On this page

It’s the time of year where winter illnesses start to become more common, from coughs, colds and flu to a throat infection. When you have a sore throat it can be uncomfortable to eat, drink and talk.

Getting the right treatment is important to help you get back to feeling yourself again, but to do so you need to know what’s causing your sore throat.

What causes a sore throat?

The cause of your sore throat isn’t always obvious, but they are usually caused by an infection which can be either viral or bacterial. Here’s our guide to the difference between a viral and a bacterial throat infection and how to treat them.

What's the difference between a viral and bacterial throat infection?

A viral infection is the most common cause of a sore throat according to the NHS. If your sore throat is caused by a virus, antibiotics are unlikely to help. Instead there are a range of products that are available over the counter at your local LloydsPharmacy, which can help ease your symptoms while your body fights the infection.

There are a variety of infections that are bacterial, including streptococcus A (also known as Strep A). Strep A is a bacterial infection that affects your throat, causing a variety of symptoms as well as pain. This type of infection can be treated with antibiotics.

How can I know which throat infection I have?

Your GP will prescribe antibiotics if they believe you have a bacterial throat infection.

You should see a GP if:

  • Your sore throat doesn’t improve after a week
  • You get sore throats regularly
  • You’re worried about your sore throat
  • You have a sore throat, a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery
  • You have a weakened immune system

How can I treat my sore throat?

There are many sore throat remedies that can help ease your symptoms. Pain relief such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help with the pain and reduce a high temperature if you have one. You could also try lozenges or throat sprays to help numb your throat.

Top tips to manage a sore throat

As well as over-the-counter medications you can get to soothe your sore throat, here are a few tips you could try to manage it:

  • Make sure to get plenty of rest and keep your fluid intake up
  • Gargle with warm, salty water (not suitable for children)
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat cool or soft foods
  • Avoid smoking or smoky places
  • Suck ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets

Visit your local LloydsPharmacy and speak to a member of our healthcare team for more advice on treating your sore throat.

Find your nearest store