Sore Throat Medicine: Pharmacy Medications & Natural Options

Updated in November 2023

Some sore throat medicine, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or acetylsalicylic acid, can be prescribed by your doctor to help relieve pain, irritation or inflammation in the throat caused by colds or flu. These can also help to treat related symptoms. like a fever and difficulty swallowing or speaking, for example.

In cases where the sore throat is caused by bacterial infections, the doctor may also prescribe antibiotic medicine, such as amoxicillin or azithromycin, to eliminate the bacteria and relieve pain, redness or pus in the throat. 

In addition to the remedies indicated by the doctor, some home remedies can help relieve symptoms more quickly and complement medical treatment, such as gargling with warm water and salt, or with pomegranate peel tea. Read more about the home remedies for a sore throat that you can use.

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When treating a sore throat, you can opt to use pharmacy medication or home remedies. 

Pharmacy medications 

Medications for sore throats should only be taken if they are prescribed by the doctor. The type of medication used will vary depending on the underlying cause of the pain. In addition, some medication may only just mask symptoms, which can lead to worsening of the illness causing the sore throat.

The treatment goals of prescription medications are aimed at relieving pain and reducing inflammation, as well as treating the trigger. The most commonly used pharmacy medications that are recommended for sore throats are: 

1. Analgesics

Medication with analgesic action, like acetaminophen, are often prescribed to relieve pain. Usually, the doctor will recommend one dose after 6 to 8 hours, with exact dosing depending on the patient’s age and weight.

2. Anti-inflammatories

In addition to having analgesic action, anti-inflammatories can also help to reduce swelling which commonly occurs with sore throats. Some examples include ibuprofen, diclofenac and meloxicam. These should ony be used as prescribed by the doctor. Ideally, they should be taken after meals to reduce gastric-related side effects. Generally, ibuprofen is the most prescribed medication and, depending on the dose, it an be used every 8 to 12 hours.  

3. Throat lozenges 

There are different types of lozenges, or hard candies, that can help to relieve pain, irritation and throat inflammation. These usually contain local anesthetic, antispetic and/or anti-inflammatory properties. They can be used independently or with prescription medication. 

4. Antibiotics

If you sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. In most cases, amoxicillin is used to treat the infection, and should be taken as prescribed (usually once every 8 to 12 hours). 

There are other medications that can be used to treat sore throats. They are often selected to treat specific bacteria. Examples include azithromycin, erythromycin, clindamycin and cephelexin. Read more about the antibiotics for sore throats that doctors commonly prescribe. 

These drugs can sometimes be bought without a prescription, but self-medication is not recommended as it can cause you more harm than good. Taking the wrong medication can also aggravate the infection, worsening the symptoms. It is important to remember that every drug has side effects and therefore should only be taken with the knowledge of a doctor, especially if you are taking other medication.

See the other ways you can get rid of a sore throat

Home remedies 

Home remedies can be used to complement prescribed treatment to relieve symptoms like pain and discomfort. 

Some options include: 

  • Gargle a mixture of 1 cup of warm water with the juice of 1 lemon and a pinch of salt. You can gargle for 2 minutes, twice a day. 
  • Gargle a mixture of 6 g pomegranate peels boiled in 150 ml (5 oz) of water.  
  • Drink 1 cup of cherry or orange juice daily, as these contain high levels of vitamin C.
  • Apply a honey and propolis spray to the throat 3 to 4 times per day. These sprays can be purchased at the pharmacy. 
  • Swallow 1 tablespoon of honey with 5 drops of propolis every day.

If the sore throat doesn’t resolve within 3 days, if you have a fever or if the symptoms worsen, it is important you go to the doctor to be checked out. Check out other natural ways to treat a sore throat

When you are constantly getting sore throats and pus in your throat, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove your tonsils.

How to cure a sore throat during pregnancy

Medication in general should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as some meds can contain harmful substances that are transmitted to the baby through the placenta or breastmilk. If you experience a sore throat during pregnancy, you should see your doctor before taking anything. The safety medication to use is acetaminophen, although you should confirm dosing before taking it.  

Home remedies are are an excellent option for pregnant women, as they are generally safer. Lemon tea with ginger is a safe remedy, and it can be made with a 4 cm long lemon peel, 1 cm of ginger soaked in 1 cup of boiling for 3 minutes. This tea can be sweetened with honey and taken 3 times per day. You can also perform gargles with water, lemon and salt. 

Common causes 

Some common causes of a sore throat are allergies, flu, pharyngitis, stomatitis, excessive smoking, reflux, or tonsillitis. However, in some cases, it may also be a sign of laryngeal or throat cancer. Other common causes are:

  • Constant or persistent sore throat which lasts for more than 4 days is usually caused by an infection, such as tonsillitis. This should be assessed by a general practitioner to start a course of antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or penicillin.
  • Sore throat with an ear ache can indicate the presence of an inflammation of the middle ear. You should see your doctor to evaluate its cause, as anti-inflammatory drugs, such as diclofenac, may be necessary.
  • Throat pain when speaking may be related to pharyngitis or laryngitis and should be checked out by a doctor for appropriate treatment with antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs. Learn more about how strep throat, a type of pharyngitis, is treated.
  • Frequent throat pain is a sign of a weakened immune system and so you should see a general practitioner and eat more foods with vitamin C, such as oranges or kiwis, which help increase the body's defenses.