Updated 25th July 2022

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Is a sore throat a symptom of COVID-19?

Written byZOE Editorial Staff

    Data from millions of ZOE Health Study app contributors has shown that a sore throat can be a symptom of COVID-19. Here’s how to spot it and what it feels like.

    What is a sore throat like in COVID-19?

    Sore throat is a well-known symptom of COVID-19 and an early sign of the disease.

    People using the app have reported having a sore throat that feels similar to what you might experience during a cold, giving a ‘scratchy’ or irritated sensation.

    COVID-related sore throats tend to be relatively mild and last no more than five days. A very painful sore throat that lasts more than five days may be something else, such as a bacterial infection, so don’t be afraid to contact your GP if the problem persists. 

    It’s important to remember that sore throats are common and caused by lots of respiratory illnesses such as normal colds. So although many people with COVID-19 experience sore throats, most people with a sore throat will not have COVID-19. 

    How has a sore throat changed over time as a symptom of COVID-19?

    During the previous COVID waves, a sore throat has consistently been in the top five most common symptoms. It has become increasingly prevalent with each new variant and is one of the most common symptoms to look out for. 

    Regardless of vaccination status, someone who catches the Omicron variant is significantly more likely to have a sore throat than someone who had an earlier variant. 

    How common are sore throats in COVID-19?

    A sore throat is now a very common symptom of COVID-19 for all age groups. On average, seven out of ten adults who are double or triple jabbed will get a sore throat with the Omicron variant. 

    When does a sore throat happen in COVID-19?

    During all COVID waves, a sore throat has been an early symptom of the virus, usually appearing in the first week of illness and improving quite quickly. It feels worse on the first day of infection but gets better on each following day.  

    On average, a sore throat could last five days. If your sore throat is persisting beyond this, it’s unlikely to be COVID-19.

    What other symptoms of COVID-19 are common alongside a sore throat?

    We found that during the earlier waves, a sore throat was most likely to occur alongside many other symptoms of COVID-19. People reported a sore throat with varying combinations of symptoms

    Earlier in the pandemic, we saw higher rates of hospitalisation, depending on someone’s age and sex, especially if they had multiple different symptoms of COVID-19 in the first week of being ill. 

    With Omicron and vaccines, we’re now seeing significantly fewer people getting a severe disease with fewer than two out of 100 people with COVID needing to go to hospital.

    What should I do if I have a sore throat and think it might be COVID-19?

    It’s vital that people know the current symptoms of COVID as restrictions are lifted and access to testing changes. 

    If you have a sore throat it could be COVID-19, especially if you have other cold-like symptoms. 

    Download the ZOE Health Study app to log your symptoms, and take a lateral flow or PCR test if you have access to one to confirm an infection. 

    Whether you have COVID-19 or any other bug, please be considerate by staying home when you’re ill and wearing a mask when you go out, to avoid spreading your germs to others who may be more vulnerable.

    The NHS has detailed advice for how to soothe and treat a sore throat. In addition, check out our tips on looking after yourself if you’re sick with COVID-19, monitoring your health at home and staying hydrated.

    You should get urgent medical help if you have breathing problems, are suddenly confused, or your lips or face are turning blue. 

    Help science and keep logging.