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Antibiotics won’t help most sore throats, health experts say

Symptoms should be managed with pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen and by drinking plenty of fluids

GPs and other health professionals should tell their patients to use paracetamol to relieve a sore throat rather than antibiotics, according to new guidance.

More than a quarter (27%) of GP appointments made in the UK for respiratory tract infections are for sore throats and antibiotics are prescribed in around 60% of cases.

But health experts said evidence shows that antibiotics make little difference to the length or severity of sore throats, unless symptoms are much more severe.

Finalising their guidance for treating the condition, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) and Public Health England (PHE) said symptoms should be managed with pain relief, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Some adults may wish to try medicated lozenges containing either a local anaesthetic, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or an antiseptic. However, they should be told these may only help to reduce pain by a small amount.

They said most sore throats are triggered by a viral infection and last for up to a week.

The guidance added that people who have a sore throat caused by streptococcal bacteria are more likely to benefit from antibiotics.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at Nice, said: “The evidence shows antibiotics are not an effective treatment for the majority of sore throats. People who need them should be given them, and our advice will support those decisions. But it is clear that routine prescribing in all cases isn’t appropriate.

“We are living in a world where bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. It is vital these medicines are protected, and only used when they are effective.”

Professor Cliodna McNulty, head of the primary care unit at PHE, said: “Antibiotics are a precious resource and it’s important that they are only used when they are really needed.

“For a sore throat, evidence shows that antibiotics make little difference to length or severity of illness, unless symptoms are much more severe.

“While a sore throat can be painful, there are other ways to control the symptoms, including taking paracetamol and medicated lozenges.”

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