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Symptomatic treatment of acute pharyngitis in adults

Wendy Stead, MD
Section Editor
Mark D Aronson, MD
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


Acute pharyngitis is one of the most common conditions treated in office practice, with millions of visits annually in the United States [1].

This topic will address options for the symptomatic relief of throat pain in adults with acute pharyngitis of viral (the most common cause of infectious sore throat in adults) or bacterial etiology. One goal is to avoid overprescribing antibiotics while maintaining or enhancing rapport with patients by meeting both patient and clinician expectations about types of treatments and symptom relief.

The evaluation of the adult patient with acute pharyngitis, the antibiotic treatment of streptococcal tonsillopharyngitis, the diagnosis and treatment of season influenza, and issues specific to pharyngitis due to mononucleosis are discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of acute pharyngitis in adults" and "Treatment and prevention of streptococcal pharyngitis" and "Diagnosis of seasonal influenza in adults" and "Treatment of seasonal influenza in adults" and "Clinical manifestations and treatment of Epstein-Barr virus infection".)

The evaluation and treatment of less common but serious causes of sore throat including epiglottitis, peritonsillar abscess, submandibular and retropharyngeal space infections, and acute human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, are discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of acute pharyngitis in adults", section on 'Excluding dangerous conditions' and "Evaluation of acute pharyngitis in adults", section on 'Non-infectious causes' and "Epiglottitis (supraglottitis): Clinical features and diagnosis" and "Epiglottitis (supraglottitis): Management" and "Peritonsillar cellulitis and abscess" and "Deep neck space infections" and "Acute and early HIV infection: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis".)


Most adult patients with acute pharyngitis have a viral illness for which they are seeking relief of sore throat pain, which is important for patient comfort and improves the patient’s ability to remain appropriately hydrated. A discussion of options for pain relief should accompany the evaluation for the etiology of the throat pain, which is most likely to be a self-limiting virus, less likely a bacterium requiring antibiotics (eg, Streptococcus or gonococcus) [2], and much less likely, a very serious infection (eg, epiglottitis, peritonsillar abscess, deep space infections, or acute human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 02, 2017.
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