Sore Throat

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 doctor 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 doctor 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 doctor might decide to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Other family members do not need to be tested unless they are sick.

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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