Ann Fam Med 2010 Jan-Feb;8(1):58-63
Department of Family Practice, University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany.
Purpose: This review summarizes the evidence regarding the efficacy of adjuvant steroids for pain reduction in acute pharyngitis.
Methods: We searched for randomized controlled trials, using MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, published between 1966 and December 2008. Two reviewers assessed the quality of each retrieved article and summarized the data.
Results: Our review found 8 relevant randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with a total of 806 patients. There were 5 RCTs with adult patients and 3 with children. All RCTs found a statistically significant faster reduction of pain or complete pain relief from steroid use compared with placebo. The trials used different steroids (dexamethasone, betamethasone, prednisone), and most participants had received antibiotics at least initially. Analgesic medication, such as acetaminophen, was allowed in all studies, but this factor was not always controlled. No serious adverse side effects were reported.
Conclusions: Steroids are effective in relieving pain in acute pharyngitis. Although no serious adverse effects were observed, the benefits have to be balanced with possible adverse drug effects. There are safe and effective over-the-counter medications to relieve throat pain. Most patients received concomitant antibiotics; however, reducing the prescription of antibiotics for generally benign upper respiratory tract infection is a public health goal. We therefore recommend further studies to establish both the safety of steroids without antibiotic coverage and the additional benefits of steroids when used with regular administration of over-the-counter analgesic medications.