What should you know about sore throat treatments?
Various natural sore throat remedies can be used at home to help soothe sore throat pain and other symptoms. Some of these may be familiar, like drinking warm liquids with honey and lemon juice or gargling with salt water, and you may find some new ones too, such as slippery elm leaves and sage. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and liquids also help soothe a sore throat.
Sore throats may be caused by viral infections (including the common cold), bacterial infections (strep throat is a common cause of sore throats), tonsillitis, and even pain following tonsillectomies (surgical removal of the tonsils).
While this article discusses home remedies that can help with the pain and symptoms of sore throat, it is important to note that some types of sore throat (such as strep throat) must be treated with antibiotics to clear the infection and to prevent long-term complications. The remedies discussed in this article are for pain relief only and will not sure a bacterial infection.
Sage/echinacea throat spray
A 2009 study showed an echinacea/sage throat spray was as effective as a spray using typical numbing agents chlorhexidine/lidocaine to relieve throat pain and scratchiness. Sage is antibacterial and antiseptic, and echinacea can have immune-boosting effects. Combined, these herbs can make for an effective throat spray that can provide fast pain relief.
Can You “Catch” a Sore Throat Through Kissing?
Yes, pharyngitis (viral and bacterial) is contagious, and can be transmitted from one person to another. Mucus (nasal discharge and saliva) can contain the viruses and/or bacteria that can cause sore throat. Consequently, even kissing can cause transfer of these contagious organisms.
Apple cider vinegar
Vinegar is acidic and can kill bacteria in the throat, and also coat and soothe a sore throat. It may also loosen phlegm that may be irritating the throat. Use as a gargle – mix 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water. This also can be combined with 1 teaspoon of salt for a saltwater vinegar gargle (gargling with warm salt-water remedy). You also can add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 tablespoon of honey to your tea (see gargling with warm water remedy).
Garlic has antiseptic properties, which can help if you have a bacterial infection, and it may help relieve sore throat pain. When crushed, raw garlic releases a compound called allicin that has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. The best way to use garlic for sore throats is simply to chew on a raw clove, or take a slice and suck on it for 15 minutes. This may be hard for most people to handle. To make the raw garlic easier to ingest, you can mince it and add some honey or olive oil. Blend some with other veggies and make vegetable juice. Add it to a little salsa. The key is to eat it raw and as soon as possible after crushing for the allicin to be effective.
Throat Coat tea
Throat Coat is an herbal tea sold to provide sore throat relief. Throat Coat herbal tea contains licorice root, elm inner bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root aqueous dry extract and is sold to help relieve sore throat. A small study showed it helped reduce sore throat pain for 30 minutes after drinking it.
Peppermint essential oil
Once again, this is not the candy but the plant. The main component of peppermint is menthol, which acts as a decongestant by thinning mucus. Peppermint may soothe a sore throat and ease a dry cough. Drink peppermint tea, or add some peppermint oil to a diffuser, or rub some peppermint essential oil on the chest (it may need to be diluted if the oil is strong).
Daily Health News
Trending on MedicineNet
Sorry kids, not the candy, but the herb. A 2009 study in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia found a licorice gargle helped reduce postoperative sore throat pain. In addition to soothing a sore throat, it is believed that licorice root may also help loosen congestion and reduce inflammation, which can also help you feel better. You can gargle with it, chew a piece of licorice root, or drink licorice tea.
This also is not the confection, but the herb. Like slippery elm, marshmallow root is a demulcent, and marshmallow root can soothe a sore throat by coating the irritated tissues of the throat. It may also loosen mucus and help with cough that may accompany or aggravate a sore throat. Marshmallow root may be taken as a tea.
Also known as Indian elm, moose elm, and sweet elm, slippery elm is believed to help coat the throat. It is considered a demulcent, which means it can help relieve irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth by forming a protective film. Slippery elm can be particularly effective when used in a lozenge as it can help prolong the pain-relieving effects. It may also be taken as a tea.
Eating frozen foods such as popsicles or sorbet can help alleviate sore throat symptoms. The cold temperatures can help ease the pain of a sore throat quickly, and many of these frozen foods are softer and easier to swallow. Non-dairy frozen items are preferred because in some individuals dairy products can more mucous, which can further irritate the throat. If dairy products do not irritate your throat, try low-fat ice cream, without added chips, nuts, or chunks that could scratch and irritate your sore throat.
Honey may be added to hot water or tea and lemon juice to help sooth a sore throat. Honey has some antibacterial properties and may help ease sore throat due to infection. There are also studies that show it may help ease a cough, which can contribute to sore throat pain. Do not give honey to children and toddlers under 1 year of age, as it may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores that may cause infantile botulism.
Eat chicken soup
Grandma was right on this one! It’s warm and helps moisten the throat. Just like drinking hot tea, hot soup can be soothing on a sore throat and can help thin sinus mucus. It also helps keep you hydrated (but stick with low sodium soups) and according to a study in the Chest Journal, it may even contain anti-inflammatory substances that could help reduce cold symptoms.
Subscribe to MedicineNet’s General Health Newsletter
Warm saltwater gargle
Rinse the mouth with a warm saltwater gargle (1 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water) and then spit it out. Don’t swallow the salt, and don’t use too much salt, as this could further dry out the sensitive throat membranes. Gargling with saltwater is an easy and economical way to help cleanse the throat and loosen phlegm. Gargle frequently to relieve symptoms of throat irritation caused by postnasal drip. A 2005 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that gargling with saltwater may even help prevent upper respiratory tract infections.
Cayenne pepper gargle
This home remedy has become popular recently. Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The claim is that mixing ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper with 1 cup of water and gargling with it can help reduce inflammation and clear the infection of a sore throat. It takes several days of use to see improvement. It can sting and burn the mouth and throat. Do not use a cayenne pepper gargle if there are open sores in the throat.
Drink warm liquids
- Drinking warm liquids such as caffeine-free tea with lemon juice and honey, warm water with lemon and honey, or warm soup broth can be soothing on a sore throat.
- Hot fluids also help thin sinus mucus, which allows for better drainage and decreased stuffiness, according to the American Osteopathic Association.
- Warm beverages also help keep you hydrated, which is important when you are feeling sick.
- Chamomile tea can also be relaxing and help you rest.
Cold and Flu Resources
Suck on ice chips
Sucking on ice chips can help cool the throat, easing pain and inflammation. When the ice melts it helps hydrate you, which can also reduce congestion and keep the throat moist.
Acupuncture may help relieve sore throat pain; however, studies have shown mixed results. Practitioners claim there is a “sore throat” acupuncture point found on the hand that can provide fast relief from sore throat pain.
Before using any herbal or alternative natural remedies, consult your doctor as some supplements can interact with prescription medications. Ask your child’s pediatrician what home remedies and natural remedies are effective for babies and toddlers, and women who are pregnant should talk to their obstetricians about the best choices to use during pregnancy.
Studies have shown that zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of a cold, and may reduce the severity of cold symptoms including sore throat. Be careful if using zinc nasal sprays or gels. There are some reports of loss of smell with the use of zinc sprays or gels. Use for less than five days is usually safe and may shorten the duration of a cold. Also, like regular lozenges, zinc lozenges can help keep the throat moist, which may alleviate soreness. Young children should not be given lozenges.
Drink plenty of fluids
Stay hydrated! When you are sick with a sore throat, staying hydrated can help ease congestion, thin mucus secretions, and keep the throat moist. Moreover, if your sore throat is accompanied by a fever, you may become dehydrated so you need to replenish lost fluids. Cold ice water can help soothe the throat, as can hot beverages. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee or colas, because they can dehydrate you.
Sleep is important in the recovery process. Getting a good night’s sleep helps the body’s immune system fight off viruses and bacteria that can cause a sore throat. Rest also applies to the voice. Don’t speak if unless it’s necessary. Use texting or email to communicate until the throat feels better.
Lozenges or cough drops
Suck on lozenges or cough drops to keep the throat moist. Some brands have topical anesthetics, which will ease throat pain at least temporarily and last longer than sprays. Lozenges with menthol also can feel refreshing and ease sore throat symptoms. Young children and toddlers should not be given lozenges as they can be a choking hazard.
Like lozenges or cough drops, hard candies can help because they stimulate the production of saliva and help keep the throat moist and lubricated, which can ease the soreness from a dry sore throat. Hard candies are often preferred for children 5 years and older and adolescents. They can be as effective as medicated lozenges and sprays, and are less likely to have unwanted side effects. Moreover, like lozenges or cough drops, do not give young children or toddlers hard candies, as they can be a choking hazard.
Use throat spray with anesthetic to help relieve symptoms fast. The most commonly used anesthetics in the over-the-counter throat sprays are phenol and benzocaine, which work by numbing the throat. These sprays won’t cure a sore throat or shorten the duration of a cold, but they may provide instant temporary relief from sore throat pain.
Use a humidifier to moisten dry air and keep your throat moist, or lean over the sink with hot running water and drape a towel over your head and inhale. You also can take a long, steamy shower. The moist air can help soothe your swollen sore throat, and may help if you are hoarse. Moist air also can help keep the nasal secretions from drying out, which can be uncomfortable. Humidifiers are good to use when babies and toddlers have dry sore throats, to help keep their throats moist. However, make sure you clean the humidifier and put fresh water in it regularly, so it does not become a breeding ground for more bacteria.
A warm mist humidifier heats the water inside the unit and releases steam into the air. This type of humidifier is helpful in cold weather, and because it uses boiling water, it can help kill airborne bacteria. A cool mist humidifier can help cool the room and is a good option if you have children or pets, so there is no risk of accidental burns.
A warm compress
Use a warm compress on the neck. Keeping the throat warm may help soothe tender lymph nodes. You can use a warm heating pad or hot water bottle, or make your own warm compress by wetting a towel with hot water (wring the excess water out before placing on your neck).
If you smoke, there are plenty of reasons to quit, including easing a sore throat. Inhaling smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes can cause a dry, irritated, and swollen throat, in addition to a cough, which can also irritate the throat. The chemicals from the smoke irritate the tissues, and the heat generated by these smoked tobacco products also leads to a sore throat. Secondhand smoke also can cause a sore throat, so avoid being around anyone who is smoking if you have a sore throat.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications for sore throat pain
OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help relieve the pain and inflammation caused by a sore throat. They may also help reduce an accompanying fever if the sore throat is caused by an infection such as strep throat. Note: Do not give aspirin to children because of its link to Reye’s syndrome, a disorder that can cause brain damage and death.
Medically Reviewed on 5/8/2019
Agarwal, A., et al. “An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Licorice Gargle for Attenuating Postoperative Sore Throat: A Prospective, Randomized, Single-Blind Study.” Anesthesia and Analgesia 109.1 July 2009: 77-81.
American Osteopathic Association. “Sore Throat? Know When to Call the Doctor.” <http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/general-health/Pages/sore-throat.aspx>.
Drutz, J.E. “Sore throat in children and adolescents: Symptomatic treatment.” UpToDate. Sept. 16, 2016. <http://www.uptodate.com/contents/sore-throat-in-children-and-adolescents-symptomatic-treatment?source=search_result&search=chicken+soup&selectedTitle=4~150>.
Johnston, C.S., et al. “Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect.” MedGenMed 8.2 (2006): 61. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1785201/>.
Linus Pauling Institute OSU. “Garlic and Organosulfur Compounds.” <http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/garlic>.
Stead, W. “Patient education: Sore throat in adults (Beyond the Basics).” May 31, 2016. <http://www.uptodate.com/contents/sore-throat-in-adults-beyond-the-basics>.
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Licorice.” <http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/licorice>.
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Marshmallow Root.” <http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/marshmallow>.
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Peppermint.” 6 July 2014. <http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/peppermint>.
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Silppery Elm.” 6 July 2014. <http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/slippery-elm>.