Steroids may be prescribed for a sore throat when there’s significant inflammation.

Sore throats are a common condition affecting both adults and children. When it comes to managing them, people often turn to over-the-counter remedies for relief, while antibiotics may be prescribed in cases of a confirmed bacterial infection, such as strep throat.

In cases with significant inflammation, healthcare professionals may also consider prescribing corticosteroids. These steroids work by reducing inflammation, which in turn can help speed up the healing process and provide pain relief.

Corticosteroids are sometimes recommended to treat sore throats, especially when significant inflammation is present.

Commonly prescribed corticosteroids for sore throats include:

They can be used for both bacterial and viral infections, but they’re more commonly prescribed alongside antibiotics, especially in case of bacterial infections like strep throat.

However, it’s important to note that steroids aren’t considered a routine or first-line treatment for sore throats.

Are steroids effective for a sore throat?

Corticosteroids can be effective in quickly reducing sore throat symptoms, particularly in cases with high levels of inflammation.

In a review of nine trials involving 1,319 participants, researchers assessed the effectiveness of corticosteroids for sore throats, either alone or in combination with other treatments. Most participants had been taking antibiotics.

The findings indicated that corticosteroids increased the likelihood of complete symptom resolution by 2.4 times within 24 hours, as well as faster symptom relief, though the effects are moderate.

Doctors may consider prescribing corticosteroids for a sore throat if one of the following is present:

  • significant inflammation
  • severe or painful symptoms (particularly when it’s challenging to swallow or speak)
  • allergic reactions (sore throat due to an allergy)
  • infectious mononucleosis (mono)
  • chronic or recurrent sore throats (for example, when underlying conditions like tonsillitis play a role)

When prescribed for a sore throat, corticosteroids can work at different rates depending on the specific situation and the severity of symptoms. Here are some general considerations:

  • Topical steroids (throat sprays or inhalers): These act locally and may provide some relief within a short time, often within a few hours to a day. They can help reduce inflammation and provide relief from sore throat symptoms.
  • Oral corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone, dexamethasone): Oral corticosteroids typically take longer to have an effect compared to topical steroids. You might start to notice improvement within 12–24 hours, but it can take a couple of days to feel the full effect. The speed of relief can vary depending on the severity of inflammation and the underlying condition.

Some evidence suggests that a single dose of oral corticosteroids increases the likelihood of symptom resolution in acute sore throat within 48 hours.

A viral sore throat typically involves the following:

  • It’s often accompanied by cold or flu symptoms (cough, runny nose).
  • It rarely causes high fever.
  • It’s usually less severe.
  • Your tonsils may or may not be enlarged.
  • The lymph nodes usually aren’t swollen.
  • It’s usually diagnosed based on symptoms, less often with tests.
  • Treatment involves rest, fluids, and over-the-counter remedies (antibiotics won’t work).

A bacterial sore throat typically involves the following:

  • It can start suddenly.
  • It may occur without cold or flu symptoms.
  • It often leads to high fever.
  • It tends to be more painful (difficulty swallowing).
  • Your tonsils may be visibly enlarged and may have white or yellow spots.
  • The lymph nodes on your neck may be swollen and tender.
  • It’s diagnosed via a strep test or throat culture.
  • It requires a full course of antibiotics to treat.

The short-term side effects of corticosteroids may include:

  • increased appetite
  • insomnia
  • mood changes
  • fluid retention
  • increased blood pressure
  • digestive issues

The long-term or high-dose side effects of corticosteroids may include:

Corticosteroids can be effective in reducing sore throat symptoms — especially in cases with high levels of inflammation — potentially leading to symptom resolution within 48 hours.

However, they’re not considered a first-line treatment, and their use should be carefully considered, taking into account individual circumstances, preferences, and the specific nature of the sore throat condition.