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Acad Emerg Med. 2010 May;17(5):476-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2010.00723.x.

Effectiveness of corticosteroid treatment in acute pharyngitis: a systematic review of the literature.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.



The objective was to examine the effectiveness of corticosteroid treatment for the relief of pain associated with acute pharyngitis potentially caused by group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus (GABHS).


This was a systematic review of the literature. Data sources used were electronic databases (Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Biosis Previews, Scopus, and Web of Science), controlled trial registration websites, conference proceedings, study references, experts in the field, and correspondence with authors. Selection criteria consisted of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in which corticosteroids, alone or in combination with antibiotics, were compared to placebo or any other standard therapy for treatment of acute pharyngitis in adult patients, pediatric patients, or both. Two reviewers independently assessed for relevance, inclusion, and study quality. Weighted mean differences (WMDs) were calculated and are reported with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs).


From 272 potentially relevant citations, 10 studies met the inclusion criteria. When compared to placebo, corticosteroids reduced the time to clinically meaningful pain relief (WMD = -4.54 hours; 95% CI = -7.19 to -1.89); however, they provided only a small reduction in pain scores at 24 hours (WMD = -0.90 on a 0-10 visual analog scale; 95% CI = -1.5 to -0.3). Heterogeneity among pooled studies was identified for both outcomes (I(2) = 81 and 74%, respectively); however, the GABHS-positive subgroup receiving corticosteroid treatment did have a significant mean reduction in time to clinically meaningful pain relief of 5.22 hours (95% CI = -7.02 to -3.42; I(2) = 0%). Short-term side effect profiles between corticosteroids and placebo groups were similar.


Corticosteroid administration for acute pharyngitis was associated with a relatively small effect in time to clinically meaningful pain relief (4.5-hour reduction) and in pain relief at 24 hours (0.9-point reduction), with significant heterogeneity in the pooled results. Decision-making should be individualized to determine the risks and benefits; however, corticosteroids should not be used as routine treatment for acute pharyngitis.

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