Do antibiotics help sore throats?

Do antibiotics help sore throats?

Do antibiotics help sore throats?

Antibiotics are one of the most well known types of medications available, and people often consider them to be a catch-all solution to any kind of illness or infection. However, as with any medication, antibiotics are good for some uses, and not so good for others. Using them when they’re not the best option can encourage antibiotic resistance, increasing the likelihood that antibiotics will fail even when they are needed[1]

So, should you take antibiotics for a sore throat? 

Do antibiotics help a sore throat?

In many cases, if you go to your GP with a sore throat, you won’t be prescribed anything at all. This is because sore throats are usually quite mild infections that don’t have a major impact on your day-to-day life. They also typically clear up within a week or two on their own[2]. If a doctor were to prescribe antibiotics for these types of sore throats, it would be a waste of time and resources, as the antibiotics are not needed. 

In such cases, your doctor or pharmacist will likely recommend topical, over-the-counter treatments to ease the symptoms of your sore throat while your body fights off the infection. This includes soothing treatments such as Ultra Chloraseptic’s menthol throat spray, which contains a local anaesthetic called benzocaine. Benzocaine acts to numb the sprayed area in seconds to ease pain – helping you to get on with your life while your immune system takes on the cause of your sore throat[3].

Can antibiotics be used against viruses?

If your sore throat has lasted for more than two weeks, it’s time to consider alternative treatment options that tackle the cause rather than the effects. You might think that this is where antibiotics come in, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The appropriate treatment for your sore throat depends on what is causing it.

Some throat infections are caused by bacteria. Others are caused by viruses. The difference might seem inconsequential to you, since you have a sore throat either way, but it’s important for doctors to identify the cause of the infection. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. If you have a viral infection such as glandular fever – which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus – then antibiotics will have no effect on the illness[4]. In fact, it might make things worse, as it can make it easier for bacteria to stand up to antibiotic treatments in the future[1].

Do you need antibiotics for tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is another illness which can cause a painful sore throat, and in some cases, antibiotics may be needed. However, this is only the case if the tonsillitis is caused by a bacterial infection and the symptoms don’t clear up after four days. Most cases of tonsillitis are viral, meaning antibiotics won’t help[5]. Your GP will carry out tests to determine whether you have viral or bacterial tonsillitis. They might also test your blood for evidence of the Epstein-Barr virus, to check if you have glandular fever instead. 

Even if you do have bacterial tonsillitis, your doctor won’t prescribe you antibiotics until their tests confirm it. In the meantime, you’ll need to use over-the-counter remedies to treat the symptoms. These may be enough to ease your sore throat until your body conquers the infection. 

Does strep throat need antibiotics?

Strep throat is caused by Strep A bacteria, and is usually treated with antibiotics[6]. This is because, if left untreated, it can develop into more complex illnesses that are harder to treat and pose greater risks to your health. Once your doctor has identified your strep throat, you should take any prescribed antibiotics as directed. Always make sure to finish the course of treatment. 

In most cases, you can take over-the-counter remedies at the same time. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe to do so, check the patient information leaflet, or ask a pharmacist for advice.

Remember, taking antibiotics is no alternative for good hygiene and sensible precautions. You can often still infect others while you’re recovering from the illness. The more you spread the disease, the more people require antibiotics and the more likely it is that common strains of bacteria will develop antibiotic resistance[1].