Sore Throat

A person sitting up in bed, holding throat and video calling with someone on their phone. A box of tissues sits on the bed.

Do I Need Antibiotics for a Sore Throat?

Why You Probably Don’t Need Antibiotics for a Sore Throat

A sore throat often comes with a cold. Most sore throats are caused by viruses. An antibiotic will not help a sore throat caused by a virus.

Some sore throats are caused by Streptococcus bacteria (the bacteria that causes strep throat). If a sore throat is accompanied by a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, pink eye, or diarrhea, it is likely due to a virus and NOT strep throat.

Your health-care provider cannot tell if a sore throat is strep throat just by looking at it.

  • If the sore throat is part of a cold, it is most likely caused by a virus and a throat swab is not needed.
  • If you do not have signs of a cold, your health-care provider might take a throat swab to show whether the sore throat is caused by bacteria or a virus. The test results are usually ready within 48 hours.
  • If the test results are negative, antibiotics will not work because the sore throat is likely caused by a virus.
  • If the test results are positive, your health-care provider might decide to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Other family members do not need to be tested unless they are sick.

Why You May Need Antibiotics for Strep Throat

Health-care providers usually treat strep throat with antibiotics. Antibiotics shorten the time you are able to spread the disease to others (are contagious) and lower the risk of spreading the infection to other parts of your body. Antibiotics also may help you feel better faster.

You are contagious while you still have symptoms. Most people stop being contagious 24 hours after they start antibiotics. If you don’t take antibiotics, you may be contagious for 2 to 3 weeks, even if your symptoms go away.

Management of Sore Throat

  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water.
  • Consider using acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) for throat pain and fever. Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 6 months of age without first speaking to your health-care provider. Please follow dosing instructions on the box or speak to a doctor or pharmacist for more information.
  • For children six years of age and older and adults, plain throat lozenges may relieve symptoms. NOTE: Younger children should not be given lozenges because of the danger of choking.
  • For older children and adults, gargling with warm salt water will make the throat feel better. Mix ½ tsp table salt with 1 cup (250 ml) warm water. Gargle for 10 seconds. May be done 4–5 times per day.
  • You or your child can go back to normal activity when feeling better.

In British Columbia, you can call HealthLink BC (at 8-1-1) or visit if you need advice or are unsure of the best course of action.

Speak to your primary health-care provider for a sore throat that continues for 2 – 3 days without any other symptoms of a cold (such as a cough, watery eyes, sneezing or runny nose) or for a sore throat accompanied by pain or swelling in the neck. For more information, see HealthLinkBC.

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