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Do I need antibiotics for sore throat?

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Even though sore throats are a very common condition, it doesn’t take away from how mind-bogglingly frustrating and painful they can be. 

With a variety of symptoms ranging from a dry, scratchy throat, to having pain when you swallow, you might be tempted to reach for the strongest antibiotic in your cupboard to relieve your pain.

I’m going to show you why that’s not the best idea…

Does a sore throat need antibiotics?

The short answer is sometimes, but not often. You should only take antibiotics for a sore throat if it’s been caused by a bacterial infection like tonsillitis or strep throat

If you’re not sure what is causing your sore throat, you can book an online consultation with a pharmacist through our website to get the treatment you need. 

Here are the common causes for sore throat and what you can do to reduce pain:

Dry air

Dry air can cause the lining of your sinuses and throat to dry up, leading to a dry, scratchy throat. Drinking more water or using an air humidifier can help your throat feel better.

Viral infections

Sore throats are often caused by a viral infection like the common cold or flu. You should make sure to get a lot of rest, stay home from work and drink plenty of fluids to soothe your throat

Allergies

Allergic reactions can often cause inflammation in the throat, which results in having a sore throat. You may want to take an antihistamine tablet if you know you’ll be coming into contact with an allergen (i.e. before going outside, if you have hay fever).

Acid reflux

Acid reflux (or heartburn) is where your stomach acid rises up into your throat, which can reduce the protective lining in your throat – causing a sore throat. If you commonly have issues with acid reflux, it may be due to certain foods. An antacid, like Rennies, can be taken to neutralise the excess stomach acid, preventing it from harming your throat.

Vocal strain

Excessive singing or yelling can often cause a sore throat the next morning. This is an issue that affects singers of all levels, and simply means that the vocal cords are fatigued. Try drinking some room temperature water next time you sing (cold water causes your vocal cords to become more tense).

Bacterial infections

If your sore throat has been caused by a bacterial infection like tonsillitis or strep throat, you may be prescribed a course of antibiotics to treat your infection. Your throat will begin to feel better as you recover from your infection. 

You can read more about how to treat your sore throat at home by reading our article on sore throat remedies.

Frequently asked questions about sore throat

Why does my throat feel scratchy?

A scratchy throat can be caused by viral infections like cold or flu, allergies, dry air, or throat irritation. Stay hydrated and consider remedies like lozenges or honey.

What is a viral throat infection?

Viral throat infections are caused by viruses like cold or flu. Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medicine can help reduce symptoms and relieve your sore throat.

What can I do for a sore throat?

To soothe a sore throat, try gargling with warm salt water, using lozenges, and consuming warm liquids like tea with honey. If symptoms persist, consult your pharmacist.

A young man is holding his throat in pain after a cough, he is holding a glass of water.

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What is Pharmacy First?

Pharmacy First is a new NHS-funded scheme that helps you quickly get the advice & treatment you need from a pharmacy, without needing to see a GP.

The conditions covered by Pharmacy First are:

Video consultations & advice are free of charge. If you pay for prescriptions you will be charged the prescription rate of £9.65 per prescription item.