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A sore throat is not a medical condition in itself, but a symptom of some other problem such as bacterial or viral infections, allergies, and exposure to irritants.
Treating the underlying problem will automatically relieve the soreness in the throat. A sore throat is a fairly common but discomforting problem that can cause difficulties in swallowing and even talking.
It is marked by an underlying inflammation, which may feel like a constant scratchiness or painful irritation in the throat.
Home Remedies for a Sore Throat
Many home remedies can provide relief from a sore throat by acting on the symptoms or the cause.
1. Gargle with salt water
Salt is antiseptic and can help in treating the underlying inflammation and infection.
It stimulates the release of water from the mucous membranes in the throat. This dilutes the phlegm, helps in its easy expulsion and may also reduce the swelling in the throat.
Salt water gargling has been found to help prevent upper respiratory tract infections. (1)
How to use:
Mix ½ teaspoon of salt in 1 glass of warm water and use this solution for gargling multiple times a day.
Salt water facilitates relief from a sore throat by loosening up the phlegm and fighting infections.
2. Have some honey
Honey possesses antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that can help combat the infection causing the sore throat. Moreover, honey can remove water from the swollen tissues of the throat to bring down the inflammation.
One study suggested that the use of a combination of honey, glycerol, and lemon mixture may also alleviate cough. (2) Honey also triggers the production of saliva and mucus that form a protective coating over the inner walls of your throat for a soothing effect. (3)
How to use:
Give children above 1 year of age up to 2.5 mL of honey before bedtime. If honey causes irritation, discontinue use and seek medical advice.
The antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of honey are useful for the treatment of a sore throat. It also soothes the throat and helps subside cough.
3. Sip herbal teas
The active compounds in ginger, for example, are credited with immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties that can help in soothing a sore throat and fighting the underlying cause. (5)(6)
Clove tea or green tea may also be consumed for their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Raspberry, peppermint, and chamomile tea can also help subside the pain and inflammation. Other herbs that may improve a sore throat include thyme, garlic, sage, licorice, and cinnamon.
How to use:
- Add a teaspoon of the herb to boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Strain the brewed tea and drink it while it is slightly warm.
Caution: It is best to consult your doctor before using herbal teas.
Herbal teas contain various active compounds that help subside inflammation, boost your immune system, and relieve pain. Ginger tea is one of the most effective drinks for a sore throat.
4. Inhale steam with eucalyptus oil
The oil obtained from the leaves of eucalyptus has antiseptic properties and can be used to alleviate the symptoms of colds, cough, sore throat, and other infections. (7)
How to use:
- Pour hot water in a heat-proof bowl and add a few drops of essential oil to it. Cover your head with a towel, lean over the bowl, and inhale the steam.
- You may add eucalyptus essential oil to an electric steam inhaler.
Caution: Essential oils should only be used in diluted forms after consulting your doctor.
5. Use a vapor rub
The use of a vapor rub can provide relief from cough and sore throat in children, enabling them to sleep better. However, vapor rub can have some mild discomforting side effects. (8)
6. Consume hot sauce and peppers
Peppers, such as cayenne, contain high amounts of capsaicin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic agent. Moreover, capsaicin is found to possess antimicrobial properties. (9)
How to use:
Include hot sauce or peppers in your daily diet by adding them to different dishes.
7. Make chicken soup
Consumption of chicken soup is found to aid immunity, fight infections, and help clear the nasal passages and sinuses. (10)
For this remedy, only homemade chicken soup should be used. At the onset of the cold and flu season, you may prepare a big batch of chicken soup and freeze it for consumption whenever needed.
8. Consume apple cider vinegar
The use of apple cider vinegar (ACV) for sore throat relief is popular. However, it is an anecdotal remedy with no scientific evidence. ACV is believed to alkalize the body and aid in fighting infections.
How to use:
- Use ACV for gargling,
- Consume it by adding ACV to tea or a glass of water.
Caution: Always dilute ACV before using, as its acidic nature can cause harm.
9. Apply a warm compress
The heat from a warm compress helps soothe the throat of any irritation and helps relieve the pain.
How to use:
- Soak a clean dish or bath cloth in warm water. Make sure the water is not too hot to burn your skin.
- Wring out any excess water.
- Place the cloth on your neck for a few minutes.
10. Suck on lozenges
Lozenges have a soothing effect on the throat. The use of herbal lozenges, such as those containing peppermint and ginger, can give the added benefits of reducing the pain and inflammation.
How to use:
- Suck on herbal lozenges with no added sugar or sugar substitutes.
- You may also suck on ice chips or popsicles for relief.
- Zinc lozenges have also been used for sore throat relief. However, there is not much scientific evidence to support their benefits and attest to their safety, which is why you must consult your doctor before trying them. (11)(12)
Caution: Do not give lozenges to children below the age of 2 years. (13)
Self-Care Tips for Pain Relief
You can adopt these measures to relieve the pain from a sore throat without the use of medication:
1. Cover your mouth while sneezing or coughing
Cover your mouth with a tissue or your upper arm when sneezing and coughing to prevent infection.
2. Rest adequately
Undisturbed sleep and adequate rest are essential to boost your immune system to fight the infection. The amount of sleep required differs among people. It is recommended to avoid any strenuous physical exercise during the recovery period.
3. Avoid smoking
Smoking cigarettes and vaping are risk factors for a sore throat. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid smoking and prevent yourself from being exposed to secondary smoke.
Studies have established an association between smoking and sore throat in US college students and Japanese women. In one study, 46 French non-smokers had sore throat due to passive, secondhand tobacco smoke exposure. (14)
4. Do not shout
Excessive voice use or shouting has been reported as a cause of sore throat in people who must often raise their voice during work, such as aerobics instructors and school teachers.
Aerobics instructors claim that they experienced a sore throat, unrelated to any illness, with the beginning of their classes, and the conditions worsened with an increase in the frequency of the classes.
5. Use a humidifier, especially during winters
Breathing in dry air can aggravate your throat irritation. Thus, you are advised to install a room humidifier to impart some much-needed moisture to your arid home environment. Make sure to clean the device from time to time so that it remains mold-free. (14)
6. Use limited medications
A sore throat is often a side effect of a wide variety of drugs. Consult your doctor before using any medications and discuss their possible side effects. Taking measures for vocal hygiene, avoiding allergens and irritants, and using OTC medications can help reduce the symptoms of a sore throat.
Dietary Changes for Managing a Sore Throat
It is necessary to modify your diet according to your bodily needs. While suffering from a sore throat, you should:
1. Avoid solid foods
A sore throat may cause pain when swallowing. To prevent this, avoid foods that are hard to chew or have high citrus, spice, or salt content. Increase your fluid intake and consume soft foods. Cut your food into smaller pieces before consuming it and chew your foods well.
2. Avoid hot foods
Consuming hot foods or drinks can irritate your throat.
3. Drink plenty of fluids
Anyone above the age of 1 may consume milkshakes, sherbet, and slushes to maintain hydration.
Drinking warm, nutritious chicken broth can also help soothe the irritated lining of the throat and provide strength to fight the infection. Intake of fluids is vital, especially when suffering from a fever.
4. Use sage leaves
Consumption of sage leaves or the use of throat sprays, lozenges, tablets, capsules, and liquids containing sage leaf extracts can help in relieving a sore throat.
Sore Throat: Prevention Tips
Taking measures toward a hygienic and healthy lifestyle can help in the prevention of a sore throat. The following guidelines may be useful:
- Keep your hands clean at all times.
- Do not come in close physical contact with people having a cold, respiratory tract infection, or sore throat.
- Avoid sharing foods, drinks, or utensils with others.
- Avoid going to heavily polluted areas.
- Use public drinking fountains and telephones carefully to prevent their contact with your mouth or nose.
- Change your toothbrush monthly to prevent infection.
Most-Asked Questions About a Sore Throat
Are antibiotics needed to treat a sore throat?
If the soreness in your throat is caused by bacteria such as streptococcus, the doctor will prescribe a short course of antibiotics to fight the underlying strep throat infection.
Antibiotics become a necessity if the sore throat is accompanied by a fever, but it can prove redundant or even counterproductive if used against viral infection.
Is a sore throat contagious?
A sore throat is usually symptomatic of an underlying bacterial or viral infection, which can spread easily from person to person through airborne respiratory droplets.
These infection-carrying droplets are released in the environment when the patient coughs, sneezes, shouts, etc., and can contaminate the surroundings or be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity.
This is particularly true of the common cold and flu, both of which are highly contagious in the initial phase of the infection when there may not even be any symptoms. However, the condition ceases to be communicable once the symptoms disappear after running its course.
A sore throat is a common nuisance that is best managed through proper home care, although you may need medication if the symptoms don’t respond to self-treatment.
Leading a healthy, hygienic lifestyle will keep you safe from the infections that are commonly at the root of this problem. But if a sore throat does occur, early treatment helps in keeping your discomfort mild and bearable.
A poorly managed case of sore throat can give rise to serious complications, such as ear and sinus infections or an abscess (buildup of pus) near your tonsils. So even though it’s not a health concern, it is still important to treat a sore throat with the necessary care.