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Management of acute sore throat in primary care

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

  • establish the reason for the consultation

  • establish the duration of the illness - infections usually resolve within five days

  • review other risk factors

  • consider aetiology of sore throat - most frequently look for features suggesting:
    • an infective cause
    • an indication for antibiotics

  • analgesia (1):
    • paracetamol and NSAIDs have good evidence of action in adults and are safe in the majority of cases
    • paracetamol and NSAIDs are safe, in most cases, in paediatric patients, but codeine should be used with caution
    • anaesthetic mouth washes have some evidence of benefit and should be considered for symptomatic relief
  • soluble paracetamol held in the mouth and then swallowed eases the discomfort (2)

Summary of Public Health England (PHE) guidance regarding antibiotic treatment of sore throat (3)

  • in general, avoid antibiotics as 90% resolve in 7 days without, and pain only reduced by 16 hours
  • if Centor score 3 or 4: (Lymphadenopathy; No Cough; Fever; Tonsillar Exudate) - consider 2 or 3-day delayed or immediate antibiotics or rapid antigen test
  • antibiotics to prevent Quinsy number needed to treat (NNT) >4000
  • antibiotics to prevent Otitis media NNT 200
  • 10d penicillin lower relapse vs 7d in RCT in <18yrs

NICE suggest (4):

  • base use of antibiotics on the FEVERpain or Centor Criteria scores


Antibiotics appropriate for management of sore throat (2):



  1. Bird JH et al. Controversies in the management of acute tonsillitis: an evidence-based review.Clin Otalaryngol. 2014 Dec;39(6):368-74
  2. Prescriber (2000);11 (23): 83-87.
  3. Public Health England (October 2014). Management of infection guidance for primary care for consultation and local adaptation
  4. NICE (January 2018). Sore throat (acute): antimicrobial prescribing.

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