Sore throats should be treated with painkillers and not antibiotics, according to new guidelines produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Public Health England.

According to NICE, antibiotics are prescribed to treat sore throats in 60 percent of cases, but evidence shows that the majority of people will get better without them.

This highlights a significant opportunity to further cut back on unnecessary prescriptions of antibiotics, which is particularly pertinent given the current threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Also, the guideline notes that some adults may want to try medicated lozenges containing either a local anaesthetic, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or an antiseptic, but should be informed that these may only help to reduce pain by a small amount.

It was stressed that doctors should use two symptom scoring tools (FeverPAIN and Centor) to better identify people with sore throats caused by strep bacteria, who are most likely to benefit from antibiotic treatment.

“The evidence shows antibiotics are not an effective treatment for the majority of sore throats,” said Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE. “People who need them should be given them, and our advice will support those decisions. But it is clear that routine prescribing in all cases isn’t appropriate.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the College supports the recommendation that paracetamol or ibuprofen are the most appropriate first-line treatment for managing pain caused by a sore throat.

“Antibiotics are essential drugs but the bacteria causing infections are increasingly becoming resistant to them, and when that happens they cease to work. We must use them sparingly and only when they are appropriate in order to help curb this dangerous and global trend – and we need our patients’ help with this by them understanding that antibiotics are not a cure for every ill.

“The RCGP has worked with Public Health England to develop the TARGET Antibiotics toolkit to support GPs and other healthcare professionals in the appropriate prescribing of antibiotics.”