Acute sore throat is one of the most common upper respiratory tract infections, which involves difficulty swallowing and redness of the pharynx and tonsils. Most sore throat infections are caused by viral agents, and are self-limiting (your body’s immune system is likely to eliminate them without medication). Some sore throat infections, however, are due to a specific bacteria and are called Strep Throat. Although this bacteria causes less than a quarter of the infections, if left untreated strep throat can lead to very serious complications.
Strep Throat Antibiotics
The fact that strep throat infections should be treated with antibiotics does sometimes lead to inappropriate antibiotic prescription. Despite this recommendation, antibiotics are overprescribed to treat sore throats without distinguishing between bacterial and viral causes of strep throat, which in the case of the latter is ineffective and unnecessary. This over-prescribing of strep throat antibiotics contributes to the current global crisis of antibiotic resistance.
Strep Throat Lozenges
For the majority of the cases, over the counter medications such as lozenges are the primary treatment for the symptoms of sore throat. Medications containing lozenges are better at relieving the symptoms of sore throat. One of the ingredients used in lozenges is hexylresorcinol. Reports showed that hexylresorcinol containing lozenges can significantly decrease the symptoms of acute sore throat over a period of two hours. Additionally, it has a concentration dependent numbing effect on the oral cavity and has both antiviral and antibacterial properties.
A laboratory study was performed in the United Kingdom to test the efficacy of hexylresorcinol containing lozenges against a group of bacteria that causes sore throat. The scientists tested hexylresorcinol against five bacteria; Fusobacterium Necrophorum, Haemophilus Influenzae, Moraxella Catarrhalis, Streptococcus Pyogenes, and Staphylococcus Aureus. Among these sore throat causing bacteria Streptococcus Pyogenes is considered the most dangerous one.
Streptococcus Pyogenes belongs to a group of bacteria called Group A beta hemolytic Streptococci or in short (GAS), which causes the majority of bacterial sore throat cases known as strep throat. If left untreated, strep throat can lead to dangerous complications including tonsillar access (which requires a tonsillectomy to be treated, rheumatic heart disease, and glomerulonephritis (inflammation in the kidneys). Strep throat is treated with a course of antibiotics such as amoxicillin, or throat lozenges that contain hexylresorcinol.
In one study, hexylresorcinol lozenges were dissolved in artificial saliva (to mimic the natural environment of the mouth). This mixture was then added to previously prepared cultures contacting the targeted sore throat causing organisms, including Streptococcus Pyogenes. And then the efficacy was measured 1 minute after hexylresorcinol lozenges were dissolved. The results of this study showed that hexylresorcinol lozenges had an efficacy of >99.9% in reducing the number of bacterial colonization against all tested bacteria within 5 minutes, which is how long the lozenge was dissolved in the mouth.
The authors concluded that strep throat lozenges can be an effective over the counter medication for strep throat, offering both local pain relief and rapid antibacterial activity against sore throat causing bacteria.