This review sought to determine whether antibiotics are effective for treating the symptoms and reducing the potential complications associated with sore throats.
Sore throats are infections caused by bacteria or viruses. People usually recover quickly (usually after three or four days), although some develop complications. A serious but rare complication is rheumatic fever, which affects the heart and joints. Antibiotics reduce bacterial infections but they can cause diarrhea, rash and other adverse effects and communities build resistance to them.
The review is current to July 2013 and included 27 trials with 12,835 cases of sore throat. All of the included studies were randomised, placebo-controlled trials which sought to determine if antibiotics helped reduce symptoms of either sore throat, fever and headache or the occurrence of more serious complications. Studies were conducted among both children and adults.
The review found that antibiotics shorten the duration of pain symptoms by an average of about one day and can reduce the chance of rheumatic fever by more than two-thirds in communities where this complication is common. Other complications associated with sore throat are also reduced through antibiotic use.
Quality of evidence
The quality of the included studies was moderate to high. However, there were very few recent trials included in the review (only three since 2000), hence it is unclear if changes in bacterial resistance in the community may have affected the effectiveness of antibiotics.