Sore throats can be painful and annoying. But most of the time they go away on their own. It may take a few days or up to a week, depending on the cause.
Most sore throats are caused by a virus, such as a cold. A bacterial infection can also cause a sore throat.
If you have a sudden, severe sore throat without coughing, sneezing, or other cold symptoms, you could have strep throat. Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils. About 1 out of 10 sore throats in adults is caused by strep throat. This means that 9 out of 10 sore throats aren't strep.
Antibiotics don't work at all for a sore throat caused by a virus. These kinds of sore throats usually go away on their own in 4 to 5 days.
If you have strep throat—which is caused by bacteria—your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, such as penicillin. But strep throat goes away on its own in 3 to 7 days with or without antibiotics.
Antibiotics may not make you well faster. But they may shorten the time you are able to spread strep throat to others (are contagious) by a day or so.
Antibiotics may also lower the risk of a bacterial infection spreading to other parts of your body, such as your ears and sinuses. They can also prevent serious but rare problems such as rheumatic fever in children.
Antibiotics may cause side effects, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and skin rashes.
Besides side effects, there are other good reasons not to use antibiotics unless you really need them.
Home treatment is often all you need to treat a sore throat. Try these treatment tips:
Your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics if you have strep throat, which is caused by bacteria. Antibiotics will only work if your sore throat is caused by bacteria.
Your doctor will do a rapid strep test or a throat culture to find out if you have strep throat.
|Take antibiotics||Don't take antibiotics|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"I was sick a lot as a kid, and I was always taking medicine. Maybe it helped at the time. But in the past few years, when I've gotten a bad sore throat or sinus infection, antibiotics haven't worked. I've had to try two or three different ones each time. That gets expensive. The next time I get a sore throat, I'm going to try just staying home, resting, and taking care of myself instead of taking antibiotics."
— Jesse, 34
"My 8-year-old daughter got strep throat last month. I thought it was just a cold, and I kept her home from school for a few days. But she wasn't getting better and she felt so miserable. I was also worried about ear infections. She gets a lot of those too. The doctor did a strep test and suggested she take antibiotics. Amy started feeling better a few days later. I think antibiotics were the right way to go this time."
— Marla, 39
"My insurance doesn't pay for all of my medicines, so I try to make sure I really need the ones I do take. The last time I had a bad cold, my throat got really sore. The pain made it hard for me to swallow. I called my doctor's office and the nurse said I could come in if I felt I needed a prescription. I thought I'd wait and see instead. I took ibuprofen and drank a lot of tea and honey, and in a few days I felt better. I'm glad I didn't spend the money on a doctor visit and medicine."
— Esther, 42
"I'm pretty healthy most of the time, but this past winter I got sick. I was down for 3 or 4 days. It turns out I had an infection in my throat and tonsils. The doctor thought I should take antibiotics because of my age and health. And I wanted to get over it as soon as possible so I could go back to my volunteer job at the local hospital. I think the medicine helped me get back on my feet just a little sooner than if I hadn't taken it."
— George, 79
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to take antibiotics for a sore throat
Reasons not to take antibiotics for a sore throat
I want to take medicine even if there's only a chance it will help me get well faster.
I may not want to take medicine if it won't help me get well faster.
I'm worried about my sore throat turning into an ear infection or sinus infection.
I'm not worried about my sore throat turning into an ear infection or sinus infection.
I'm not worried about the risk of taking antibiotics too often.
I'm worried about the risks of taking antibiotics too often.
I've had a sore throat for more than a week, and it's not getting better.
I've had a sore throat for just a few days.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
NOT taking antibiotics
1. Do most sore throats go away on their own?
2. Is it harmful to take antibiotics too often?
3. Do antibiotics work if a sore throat is caused by a virus, such as a cold?
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Charles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology|