Dexamethasone as adjuvant therapy for severe acute pharyngitis

Ann Emerg Med. 1993 Feb;22(2):212-5. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(05)80205-7.


Study objective: To determine the efficacy of dexamethasone as adjuvant therapy to improve pain relief in patients with severe, acute exudative pharyngitis.

Design: Prospective, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Setting: Large, urban community hospital emergency department with an emergency medicine residency program.

Type of participants: Patients aged 12 to 65 years old with exudative pharyngitis and severe dysphagia/odynophagia. Patients with cancer, AIDS, diabetes mellitus, recent steroid use, pregnancy, or suspicion of peritonsillar abscess were excluded.

Interventions: All patients received oral penicillin (500 mg Pen VK) or erythromycin (333 mg base) three times daily for ten days in addition to either 10 mg single-dose dexamethasone or saline placebo IM injection.

Measurements and results: Fifty-eight patients graded their initial degree of throat pain on a visual-analog scale that was 15 cm long and scored from 0 to 3.0 in 0.5-cm increments. Follow-up was obtained on 51 patients to determine their condition at 24 hours. At entry, there was no difference in age, weight, antibiotic assignment, or initial pain score between groups. Improvement in pain score (initial versus 24 hours) was 1.8 +/- 0.8 in the 26 patients of the dexamethasone group and 1.2 +/- 0.9 in the 25 patients of the placebo group (P < .05). Time to onset of pain relief was also faster in steroid-treated patients who demonstrated relief beginning at 6.3 +/- 5.3 hours, compared with 12.4 +/- 8.5 hours in the placebo group (P < .01). Of the 26 patients evaluated at seven days (13 in each group), time to complete lack of pain averaged 15.0 +/- 11.4 hours in the dexamethasone group and 35.4 +/- 17.9 hours in the placebo group (P < .02). Complications attributable to dexamethasone were not observed.

Conclusion: In patients with severe, acute exudative pharyngitis, single-injection dexamethasone adjuvant compared with placebo resulted in statistically and clinically significant improvement, as evidenced by more rapid onset and greater degree of pain relief.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Emergencies
  • Erythromycin / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Penicillins / therapeutic use
  • Pharyngitis / complications
  • Pharyngitis / drug therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Penicillins
  • Erythromycin
  • Dexamethasone