Prescription medicine

This refers to antibiotics and other similar medication. Antibiotics are only prescribed if your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection and NOT a viral infection such as a cold.


Antibiotics work wonders in many cases but are not effective against viral infections. This is due to the cleverness of viruses which can hide inside a ‘host’cell within the body and multiply which leads to an infection. As a result of this it is extremely difficult to kill off a virus.

Antiviral drugs have proven to be effective against a few viral infections such as Hepatitis C and the flu but more research is needed.

If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection then antibiotics are an option although doctors are aware of the risk of an over-prescription of antibiotics.

This is a problem which has occurred over the last few years due to an increase in the number of people asking for antibiotics to treat a range of minor conditions which includes the common cold.

However, an over reliance on antibiotics for bacterial infections has led to the emergence of strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which are immune to the effects of this medication. This resistance also occurs if you stop taking antibiotics too early instead of seeing through the prescribed period of treatment.

Many people stop taking antibiotics because their symptoms have cleared up without finishing the treatment. For example, they have been advised to take them for 7 days but stop taking them after 4 days.

Antibiotics must be taken as per the instructions of your GP. Do not stop taking them early even if your bacterial throat infection clears up much quicker than anticipated.

Types of sore throat which are prescribed antibiotics

Your GP will only prescribe antibiotics as per the following:

  • You have repeated strep throat infections
  • You have a severe sore throat or the symptoms of your sore throat have worsened.
  • You suffer from valvular heart disease (problem with your heart valves).
  • You have a history of rheumatic fever (inflammatory disease caused by strep throat).
  • Weakened immune system due to HIV
  • You have diabetes which can increase your chance of an infection.

Penicillin will be prescribed unless you have an allergy to this. If this is the case then an alternative such as erythromycin will be given instead.

Side effects of antibiotics

All forms of medication can cause side effects although these only occur in a small percentage of cases. However it is as well to be aware of these.

Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin rash

If you experience any of these whilst taking antibiotics for a sore throat then contact your GP.

Another complication is that antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of certain types of contraception. If you are a woman who is using a contraceptive then ensure that you are fully protected by taking an additional form of contraception.

Speak to your GP about this.

If your sore throat fails to respond to treatment then it may be symptomatic of a more serious condition such as glandular fever or a form of throat cancer. These will require further investigation.

A sore throat is often a symptom of another disease so treatment will be based upon what that disease is, for example acid reflux. In many cases medication will resolve the problem but sometimes, surgery is the only solution.

Find out more in our throat surgery section.

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