Healthy Living

Have a sore throat? Should you take Antibiotic?

Have a sore throat? Should you take Antibiotic?

Antibiotic prescriptions for some infections are contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance and superbugs. It has been found that most prescriptions written for antibiotics in India are for clinically mild conditions, such as viral conditions, sore throat, urinary tract infection, and otitis (swimmer’s ear). “If we want to save lives we have to develop alternative drugs for those mild infections,” say experts. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections. But along with killing or stopping the growth of “bad” bacteria in the gut, they take a toll on the “good” bacteria in the body. A lack of good bacteria in the gut can cause potentially bad bacteria, like E. coli, to take hold and wreak havoc on your digestive system.


Exposure to too many antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, a problem that causes lakhs of deaths each year. Resistance is when bacterial growth can no longer be controlled or killed by an antibiotic. “People shouldn’t expect a prescription every time they visit their doctor.” They should go to a doctor for a diagnosis and a recommendation on how to treat an illness, not to always walk away with a prescription in hand. It’s also important to remember that antibiotics can have side effects, and patients may even have allergic reactions to them. Antibiotics can also be expensive, especially if you do not have insurance and have to pay with cash.

Abuse of antibiotics is rampant all over the country on self prescription or chemists’ advice or sheer quackery. A patient may come in with a sore throat along with cold symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose, pink eye, or a raspy or strained voice. With those symptoms, it’s more likely he or she has a viral infection, for which an antibiotic would be useless. Many doctors say that there’s some confusion over the diagnosis of group A strep throat. Often, a large number of people who are carriers of the bacteria don’t need to be treated. And a sore throat doesn't automatically mean you have a strep infection.

When are antibiotics necessary for sore throat?

Strep throat is common in children because it’s easily spread through a sneeze, cough, or sharing food, among other ways. Watch out for these symptoms:

  • A fever
  • Sore throat that causes pain when swallowing
  • Swollen tonsils with pus
  • Absence of cough
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Some children may feel nauseated, have a headache or a stomachache, or vomit. Doctors have to be selective about testing for strep throat.. The doctor takes a throat swab, called a rapid strep test, or a throat culture. If the test comes back positive for the bacteria, then the doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic. But strep throat is a self-limited disease that will go away on its own.  Antibiotics are not prescribed to treat strep itself, but to prevent serious complications, such as rheumatic fever. “Patients should actually ask if they really need to take an antibiotic. The guidelines recommend narrow spectrum antibiotics such as penicillin. Penicillin is the treatment of choice, and strep bacteria hasn’t been found to be resistant to it. Amoxicillin is considered to be a broader spectrum antibiotic, so it will kill more bacteria than penicillin.

If someone feels ill he or she should definitely consult a doctor. The important thing is not to expect or demand an antibiotic every time you get a sniffle — and never, ever, try to self-medicate with antibiotics.

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