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Sore throat symptoms can be rough. Your saliva goes down like sandpaper, every cough makes you wince, and the only thing you can think about is making that lump in the back of your throat go away.
But to ease the pain, you need to understand what’s causing your sore throat in the first place: dry air, smoking, acid reflux, viral infections like the flu or common cold, and bacterial infections like strep can all lead to a sore throat.
In general, a viral infection usually comes with other symptoms, like muscle aches and fatigue, along with your sore throat, says Chester Griffiths MD, an otolaryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. With a bacterial infection, on the other hand, the pain is usually more focused on your throat and the soreness tends to be pretty severe, Dr. Griffiths says. You may also have intense pain when you swallow, along with a high fever.
Exposure to smoke, breathing in dry air, and having acid reflux tends to feel “very different” from an infection, says Jason Abramowitz, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at ENT and Allergy Associates. “Usually patients do not feel as sick overall [and] the pain is also usually not as severe,” he says.
The good news: Sipping warm teaand sucking on cough drops or zinc lozenges can usually soothe the throat irritation and inflammation that are causing your agony, says Brett Comer, MD, a head and neck surgeon at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
Still, some of your favorite home remedies may just be masking the pain—not actually resolving it. If you really want to get rid of a sore throat, reach for these best OTC cures next time you’re feeling achy.
Schedule your appointment in New York and new Jersey to find a specialist near you if you have these symptoms
Your poor sore throat. Is there anything that can help? A sore throat makes it more difficult to eat, drink, sleep, talk and generally function — and who wants that?
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What’s even more frustrating is that sore throats can be caused by a myriad of maladies — from allergies to the common cold, from bacterial infections like strep throat to other issues.
“The best way to get to the bottom of what’s causing your sore throat is to visit your doctor,” says family medicine specialist Daniel Allan, MD. But if you can’t make an appointment right away, Dr. Allan shares the most effective home remedies for a sore throat that’ll hold you over for a few days — along with those that don’t quite work as advertised.
It really depends on what’s causing your sore throat. “Most sore throats will dissipate within three to 10 days if it’s caused by a viral infection like a cold,” says Dr. Allan.
If a bacterial infection like strep or allergies is the culprit, your sore throat could last longer if not treated with appropriate antibiotics or medications.
Once you’re properly diagnosed and treated for a bacterial infection, your sore throat should clear up within a day or so.
In the meantime, try some of Dr. Allan’s tried-and-true ways to alleviate your sore throat.
Sip on warm drinks, like tea or chicken soup. (It’s not just good for the soul, you know!) Or try cold liquids, such as ice water or popsicles. It depends on your preference and what soothes your throat best.
“Liquids help clear mucous membranes, keep things flowing and prevent sinus infections,” says Dr. Allan. Warm temperatures may also reduce coughs by soothing the back of your throat. Try both warm and cold to see what works best for you.
Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt — or a similar amount of baking soda — in a glass of warm water. Gargle (but don’t swallow) the concoction every three hours for an all-natural sore throat remedy.
Salt water can help reduce swelling and irritation in your throat. Baking soda also soothes the throat, breaks up mucus and can help with throat-irritating acid reflux.
An antihistamine may dull or relieve throat pain. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen also help with pain that’s located a little deeper in your glands and other parts of your neck.
“Histamines are chemicals that help your immune system fight foreign substances. But sometimes, they go overboard, triggering symptoms (such as congestion and post-nasal drip) that can make a sore throat feel worse,” explains Dr. Allan. Antihistamines can counteract this overreaction.
Take a hot shower. When it gets really steamy, breathe in the throat-clearing magic. Dr. Allan says steam loosens mucus and can moisturize and soothe a sore throat.
A hot toddy is a drink combo made with water, whiskey, honey and lemon juice and served hot. Some people add spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger. Oh yeah — you should also be of legal drinking age to try this one. Sorry, kids.
Dr. Allan shares why hot toddies can be very soothing:
Put your head on your pillow at a decent hour and close your eyes. Repeat as necessary.
“Don’t underestimate physically resting your body and voice,” Dr. Allan says. But beware: Lying flat can sometimes cause swelling due to an increase in pressure at the back of your throat. Instead, try elevating the bed or sitting propped up or in a chair to alleviate the pain and discomfort.
Dr. Allan warns that not all sore throat remedies are created equally. He recommends you pass on these two:
And avoid things that can irritate your throat, including:
Dr. Allan advises using common sense when deciding whether to seek out medical care.
Call your doctor if you:
And remember, when it comes to illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wash your hands often. And if you do get sick, Dr. Allan recommends immediately replacing your toothbrush with a fresh, germ-free one.
A sore throat can be very uncomfortable. The main symptoms are pain and irritation in the throat, especially when swallowing.
A sore throat occurs as part of the body’s immune response to viral or bacterial infections.
The natural immune response leads to inflammation and swelling of the mucous membranes in the throat.
However, several natural remedies may provide relief, including some that are supported by scientific evidence.
Here are 15 natural sore throat remedies.
People have used extracts from the marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis, to treat sore throats and other conditions since ancient times.
Its root contains a gelatin-like substance called mucilage that coats and lubricates the throat when a person swallows it.
Researchers have tested lozenges containing marshmallow root in animals and found them to be effective and nontoxic, even at very high doses. It may also help soothe a dry cough (1, 2, 3).
Here is a recipe for a cold marshmallow root infusion to soothe a painful throat:
When it is ready, take sips throughout the day to help reduce symptoms.
Choosing high quality dried marshmallow root from a reliable source is important.
Bottom line: Marshmallow has a long history of use for treating sore throats. Its root contains a gelatinous substance, called mucilage, which coats and soothes the throat.
Sage is a popular herb in cooking, but it also has several medicinal uses.
Sage, also called Salvia officinalis, originated in the Mediterranean. Now, people grow it around the world.
Sage may help with many inflammatory conditions, and controlled studies suggest that it can help relieve throat pain (4, 5, 6).
In one study, a sage-echinacea spray was slightly more effective at reducing throat pain than a chlorhexidine lidocaine spray. Neither treatment caused any negative side effects (7).
Echinacea is another herb that people use in traditional medicine. It can fight bacteria, reduce inflammation, and help treat respiratory conditions (8).
Follow this recipe to make sage-echinacea throat spray at home:
Bottom line: Research suggests that a sage-echinacea spray can help relieve a sore throat as effectively as antiseptic medication spray.
Apple cider vinegar is a natural health tonic. It has been a staple in folk medicine remedies for centuries. Its main active ingredient, acetic acid, helps fight bacteria.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, prescribed a combination of apple cider vinegar and honey, called oxymel, to treat flu symptoms, such as coughs and sore throats (9).
To help relieve throat pain, drink 1 cup of warm water mixed with 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of apple cider vinegar and 1 optional tbsp of honey.
The possible risks of apple cider vinegar include tooth decay and digestive problems. Learn more here.
People can find apple cider vinegar in supermarkets, health stores, and online.
Bottom line: Apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties and, when a person mixes it in small amounts with warm water, could help relieve a sore throat.
Gargling with salt water is a well-known natural remedy to get rid of a sore throat.
The salt helps reduce swelling by pulling water out of the throat tissue. It may also help kill harmful microbes in the throat.
Combine 1 cup of warm water with 1 tsp of salt and stir to dissolve. Gargle with a mouthful of this mixture for 30 seconds once per hour.
Bottom line: Gargling hourly with warm salt water may help reduce swelling and ease throat discomfort.
Honey is a sweetener that people often combine with other natural ingredients to soothe a sore throat.
People use honey as a medicine because it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects (10).
In addition to helping fight infection and providing pain relief, honey can also make certain remedies taste better.
Honey may be especially effective when a person combines it with warm water and apple cider vinegar or herbs. Some people choose to use raw honey or manuka honey.
However, children under the age of 1 should avoid honey. Their guts have not yet acquired healthy bacteria that can fight off some germs, such as botulism spores, that sometimes occur in honey.
Also, people who avoid sugar or follow a low carb diet may want to choose another remedy, since honey is a form of sugar. It contains 17.3 g of carbohydrates per tablespoon (11).
Bottom line: Honey can help relieve throat pain, particularly when a person combines it with vinegar or herbs in warm water. Never give honey to children under 1.
The licorice plant, also called Glycyrrhiza glabra, is native to Europe and South Asia.
Best known for its sweet flavor, licorice also has uses in traditional medicine.
It has properties similar to aspirin that may help reduce sore throat pain. It also has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects (12).
However, there is no research into its ability to relieve illness-related sore throats.
That said, studies have reported that after surgery, licorice could significantly reduce throat pain due to breathing tube removal (13, 14).
One study found that gargling with licorice water before surgery reduced the risk of getting a sore throat by 50%, compared with gargling with sugar water (14).
To make licorice tea, combine ground licorice root with hot water, let it steep for 5 minutes, then strain it prior to drinking.
Licorice root tea is also available at natural grocery stores and online.
Bottom line: Drinking or gargling licorice tea may help soothe a sore throat.
Lemon water is a refreshing beverage that may also reduce the throat pain that occurs during a cold or flu.
Lemon contains vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants. These compounds fight inflammation and reduce oxidative stress, which are common markers of disease (15).
Lemon also increases the amount of saliva the body produces, which can help keep the mucous membranes moist.
Try combining lemon with warm water and a little honey or salt water to maximize its benefits.
Bottom line: Lemon water contains vitamin C and compounds that can soothe a sore throat and assist with healing.
Ginger is a spice with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that may help relieve throat pain.
Some laboratory studies have found that ginger extract can kill some bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory illnesses. It can also reduce inflammation in people with tuberculosis, which is a lung disease (16, 17, 18).
Ginger tea is available from most markets and online retailers. People can also make their own from fresh ginger.
Follow this recipe to make ginger root tea at home:
This tea works well reheated as needed or served cold.
Bottom line: Ginger root tea may help fight infection, reduce inflammation, and relieve sore throat pain.
Coconut oil is a versatile food with several health benefits.
Animal studies suggest that it may help fight infection and reduce inflammation in areas exposed to it (19, 20).
Coconut oil is also very soothing because it helps lubricate the mucous membranes in the throat.
Here are a few ideas to try:
Read about some other ways to use coconut oil here.
Limit coconut oil consumption to about 2 tbsp (30 milliliters [ml]) per day, as it can have a laxative effect at higher dosages. When using coconut oil for the first time, start with 1 tsp (5 ml) at a time to minimize potential side effects.
Bottom line: Coconut oil is very soothing on the throat and may have anti-inflammatory effects. Take up to 2 tbsp (30 ml) per day alone or in warm beverages.
Cinnamon is a fragrant and delicious spice with a high antioxidant content. It can also provide antibacterial benefits (21).
In Chinese medicine, cinnamon is a traditional remedy for colds, flus, and sore throats.
Cinnamon tea is available for purchase in most grocery stores, in both herbal and regular varieties, and online. People can also add cinnamon to herbal or black tea.
Another option is to make cinnamon almond milk, which may be especially soothing for a sore throat.
Follow this recipe to make cinnamon almond milk at home:
Bottom line: Cinnamon may help fight throat pain and infection due to a cold or flu. Try drinking cinnamon tea, or adding cinnamon to a warm beverage, to ease throat discomfort.
Although swallowing may be uncomfortable, drinking plenty of water or other fluids will ultimately make the throat feel better. It is important to keep the throat’s mucous membranes hydrated so that they can heal.
Drink tea, herbal infusions, water, or other beverages at whatever temperature feels most comfortable.
Bottom line: Staying hydrated, by drinking enough fluid through the day, will allow the throat to remain moist so that it can heal.
Chicken soup is a well-known natural cold and sore throat remedy. It is also a comfort food that allows people to get more fluids when they are sick.
Try adding garlic to the soup. Garlic contains bioactive compounds that can also provide benefits during times of illness (22).
A person can buy canned chicken soup ahead of time and store it until needed, or they can prepare a homemade chicken soup.
Bottom line: Chicken soup is a comfort food that may help soothe a sore throat. Adding garlic may provide additional benefits.
Peppermint tea contains anti-inflammatory compounds and is very soothing to the throat. The mint may also slightly numb the throat, thereby relieving pain (23).
Peppermint tea is caffeine-free, and its naturally sweet taste often requires no additional sweetener.
There are many peppermint herbal teas in stores and online.
To make peppermint tea at home, steep fresh peppermint leaves in boiling water for 3–5 minutes, then strain off the leaves.
Bottom line: Peppermint tea is a tasty, refreshing beverage that may help reduce inflammation and throat discomfort.
Chamomile is a daisy-like plant that people have used for medicinal purposes since ancient times.
Some research suggests that chamomile tea promotes restful sleep, which is important for healing (24).
Other studies have found that chamomile may help fight infection and reduce pain (25).
Chamomile tea has a pleasant, mild aroma and flavor. Like other herbal teas, chamomile contains no caffeine.
Chamomile tea is widely available at grocery stores and online.
Bottom line: Chamomile tea may promote restorative sleep, help fight infection, and soothe sore throat pain.
Teas, infusions, and other drinks are soothing and provide hydration, but sometimes sucking on a throat lozenge can also be comforting.
There are herbal throat lozenges available for purchase online and in some natural grocery stores. People can also make homemade throat lozenges with some of the herbs listed in this article.
Slippery elm is a popular herb for lozenges. It contains mucilage that coats and soothes the throat, similar to marshmallow root.
Try making lozenges ahead of time to have them on hand when a sore throat develops.
Bottom line: Purchase herbal throat lozenges or make a batch ahead of time to stay prepared for a sore throat.
Over-the-counter medications also can help ease a sore throat, including:
Bottom line: Several medications — including NSAIDs, throat sprays, and lozenges — can provide relief from a sore throat. These are available in stores and online.
No matter how healthy a person is, everyone gets a sore throat occasionally.
However, there are many steps a person can take to soothe a sore throat and encourage healing.
Be sure to see a doctor if a sore throat lasts for longer than a few days or is extremely painful. Severe or persistent pain may indicate strep throat, tonsillitis, or another serious infection that requires medical treatment.