Delayed prescriptions or shorter courses of treatment may help fight antibiotic resistance, researchers have found.

Researchers at University of Southampton in the UK followed thousands of patients who visited their general physicians (GP) with a sore throat.

In the first study, patients who were given antibiotics straight away started to recover around a day sooner than those given no prescription at all.

Patients given a delayed prescription experienced a similar recovery rate to those given immediate antibiotics, researchers said.

Most infections clear up on their own with no need for antibiotics, while patients felt reassured by the knowledge they had a prescription they could use just in case, they said.

It also meant those whose symptoms did not improve could get the medication they needed without having to go back to the GP.

In the second study, the researchers looked at those treated with an antibiotic and compared recovery rates for those given five, seven or 10 days treatment.

Those on the ten-day course were slightly less likely than those on the five-day course to revisit their GP with new or persisting symptoms, researchers said.

However, the difference was very small and was not statistically significant, they said.

The researchers noted that although current guidance was to use ten days antibiotics, in practice shorter courses are used.

“It does not appear from this data that shorter courses lead to more prolonged symptoms or a higher risk of needing a second visit to the doctor,” said Michael Moore, professor at University of Southampton.

“Adopting shorter courses could be an effective strategy to reduce exposure to antibiotics. However, it is important to test this theory further in controlled trials before GPs guidelines are amended to recommend shorter courses,” Moore added.

Antibiotic resistance is now considered a global health crisis and one of the contributors is over-prescription of the drugs.

“We need to adopt new approaches if we are going to reduce our overreliance on antibiotics,” said Professor Michael Moore from University of Southampton.

“A ‘wait and see’ approach seems to have similar benefits to a prescription on symptoms approach; and we found that less people end up using them. A shorter course of antibiotics does not seem to have disadvantages and is another way of reducing exposure to antibiotics,” he said.

The research was published in the British Journal of General Practice.