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How can I Treat a Bacterial Infection in the Throat?

By Amanda Livingstone
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bacterial infection in the throat is usually treated with a regimen of antibiotics and self-care remedies. Some may opt to alleviate the inflammation and throat pain of a bacterial infection with oral anesthetics, such as throat lozenges, and analgesic pain relievers. The type and duration of treatment depends on the cause and severity of the infection.

Microorganisms such as Group A streptococcus, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Chlamydia pneumonia can cause a bacterial infection from which pharyngitis can develop. Pharyngitis is the inflammation of the throat between the tonsils and larynx. A sore throat accompanied by fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, joint and muscle pain is characteristic of bacterial pharyngitis.

In many cases Group A streptococcus can cause a potentially serious throat infection called strep throat. Patients should be tested to determine the cause of the symptoms they are experiencing. Once the type of a bacterial infection in the throat has been identified, a health care professional will usually prescribe medication to kill the infection.

Bacterial pharyngitis is usually treated with one of three types of antibiotics: penicillin, cephalosporins or macrolides. A derivative of penicillin, amoxicillin is one of the more frequently prescribed antibiotics for bacterial infections because it is effective and inexpensive. Cephalosporins and macrolides are used as alternatives to penicillin and its derivatives. Macrolide antibiotics such as azithromycin are prescribed for those who have a penicillin allergy. Antibiotics are usually administered for five to ten days, but the length of treatment might vary depending on the severity of the infection.

Along with antibiotics, many patients choose to employ self-care remedies to help treat the infection and its symptoms. Popular home remedies include gargling with warm salt water or with an antimicrobial mouthwash. Salt water may be the better alternative for some as it relieves pain and removes irritants. Many mouthwashes can cause further irritation and discomfort to an already painful throat.

Oral anesthetics and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are generally effective at treating pain and inflammation, as well as reducing the fever associated with bacterial infections of the throat. The effects are temporary, which means medications must be continuously administered over the course of the infection. Oral anesthetics can be found in various forms including cough drops, throat lozenges and sprays. OTC medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are effective pain and fever reducers. Another option for pain relief and healing is herbal tea, which often includes throat-soothing ingredients such as licorice and honey.

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Discussion Comments
By anon349097 — On Sep 23, 2013

My complaint is a throat infection. I have had a sore throat and coughing for more than three months. I have taken antibiotics such as amoxicillin and, penicillin, but still the coughing is there. Could you please give me good advice about that? I had a chest x-ray and it shows nothing.

By wavy58 — On Jan 05, 2012

I had a strange throat infection once that I now think was probably pharyngitis. Instead of being sore right in the back of my mouth, I had some dryness and pain down further in my throat.

Also, my lymph nodes were swollen in my neck. This usually doesn't happen when I get a typical sore throat. In addition, I felt just plain terrible all over, like I had overexerted all my muscles.

I had a 99 degree fever, so I didn't worry too much about getting treatment for it. I took anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs to decrease the swelling in my neck and throat, and this made my temperature return to normal.

By seag47 — On Jan 05, 2012

If my sore throat is not unbearable, I prefer to treat it at home. As long as I can still swallow and I'm not burning up with fever, I just treat it myself.

I like to gargle with warm, salty water a few times a day. Since I usually have a lot of post-nasal drip with a sore throat, the salt is good to get rid of the mucus.

I also like to drink herbal tea made specifically for treating sore throats. I use lemon echinachea tea bags, and I drink the tea hot. This seems to cut through the mucus and inflammation, without being painful.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 04, 2012

My husband had all the strep throat symptoms, but his doctor wanted to swab his throat and do a test anyway. Strangely, she found he did not have strep throat.

She just classified it as an upper respiratory infection. She told him to use a special medicated mouthwash, and she also prescribed him some antibiotics. After a week of using both, he was healed.

I got sick soon after, and we both assumed I had what he had. However, my doctor confirmed that I had actual strep throat, which was so weird. I also got antibiotics, but he didn't tell me to use a mouthwash.

By StarJo — On Jan 03, 2012

@EdRick – I wish my doctor had told me to throw away my toothbrush! I got strep throat two times in a row, and that may be why.

I figured that the penicillin he gave me must have been ineffective, because he also gave me steroids, which worked at first. After I stopped taking the steroids but continued to take the penicillin, my sore throat returned, and I had to go back to the doctor.

He gave me a different type of antibiotic that worked. However, I got a sinus infection not long afterward that just would not go away. I think I might have been reinfecting myself by using the same toothbrush.

By MissDaphne — On Jan 03, 2012

@EdRick - That's fascinating! I've also seen that you might not have *all* the symptoms of a bacterial infection when you have strep throat. I somehow managed to pick up a case of it one summer - ironic, because I'm a teacher, but I got it somewhere else - and a sore throat was my main symptom.

But I never did get a real fever (temp was almost a hundred, but not quite) and I didn't notice any swollen lymph nodes. I did feel achy; I thought I had the flu, which has been known to give me a sore throat. Because I didn't have those classic symptoms, I waited four days to go to the doctor. Had I gone sooner, I'm sure I would have felt better much more quickly. I think I took longer to recover because of having given the infection time to get worse. Could have started antibiotics sooner!

By EdRick — On Jan 02, 2012

It's important to be aware that while a bacterial throat infection like "strep throat" *usually* causes a sore throat, this isn't necessarily the case. My son had a high fever but no throat pain at all. I was surprised when the doc ordered a strep test, but sure enough it came back positive! She explained that they see this more and more; the symptoms of strep may be changing. The test is noninvasive and cheap, so if you are the doctor with a kid with a fever, it's worthwhile to ask for it if the doctor doesn't do one automatically.

She also told us to throw away his toothbrush once he'd been on the antibiotics for twenty-four hours. Apparently, the bacteria can live on the brush and reinfect the patient!

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