Your poor, sore throat. Is there anything that can help? Family medicine doctor Daniel Allan, MD, shares the most effective home remedies for a sore throat, along with those that don’t work as advertised.
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How to get rid of a sore throat: 6 home remedies you should try
1. Warm and cold fluids.
The skinny: Sip on warm drinks, such as tea or chicken soup. (It’s not just for the soul!) Or try cold liquids, such as ice water or popsicles.
Doctor’s advice: Liquids help clear mucous membranes, keep things flowing and prevent sinus infections. Warm temperatures may also reduce coughs by soothing the back of the throat. Try both warm and cold to see what works best for you.
The skinny: 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.
Doctor’s advice: 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.
3. Over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers
The skinny: An antihistamine may dull or relieve the throat pain. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen also help with pain that’s located a little deeper in the glands and other parts of the neck.
Doctor’s advice: 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. Antihistamines can counteract this overreaction.
4. Steam and humidity
The skinny: Take a hot shower. When it gets really steamy, breathe in the magic.
Doctor’s advice: Steam loosens mucus and can moisturize and soothe a sore throat.
5. Hot toddy
The skinny: 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.
Doctor’s advice: Hot toddies can be very soothing. Here’s why:
- Honey coats your throat and soothes it by reducing irritation. Honey also has antibacterial properties, and the sweetness can calm the throat’s nerve endings and reduce coughing.
- Whiskey (a small amount; too much can dehydrate you) breaks up and thins mucus. Whiskey also dilates the blood vessels on the surface of the throat, so immune cells in your blood can multiply and fight the infection.
- Spices stimulate saliva production, improving both hydration and mucus flow in your throat.
The skinny: Put your head on your pillow at a decent hour and close your eyes. Repeat as necessary.
Doctor’s advice: Don’t underestimate physically resting your body and voice. But beware: Lying flat can sometimes cause swelling due to an increase in pressure at the back of the throat. Instead, try elevating the bed or sitting propped up or in a chair to alleviate the pain and discomfort.
Two home remedies for sore throat to avoid
Dr. Allan warns that not all sore throat remedies are created equal. He recommends you pass on these two:
- Apple cider vinegar (“It probably has some antibacterial properties, but that’s not going to do much for the sore throat itself.”)
- Essential oils (“They haven’t been well-studied or clinically proven for safety or effectiveness.”)
And avoid things that can irritate your throat, including:
- Dry air.
- Acidic foods or spicy foods.
- Lying down immediately after you eat, especially if you have acid reflux.
When to see a doctor about throat pain
Dr. Allan says to use common sense when deciding whether to seek out medical care. Call a doctor if you:
- Have throat pain that’s severe, prolonged or not improving, or stretches into your ear.
- Have trouble swallowing, breathing or opening your mouth.
- Are coughing up blood or have blood in your saliva.
- Feel enlarged lymph nodes, or lumps, in your neck.
- Have white patches on the back of your throat or a rash, possible signs of strep throat or scarlet fever.
- Have a high fever.
- Lose your voice for more than a week or two.
And remember, when it comes to illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of hot toddies. Wash your hands often. And if you do get sick, Dr. Allan advises immediately replacing your toothbrush with a fresh, germ-free one.