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Fact Checked

How to Get Rid of a Sore Throat

Sore throats are uncomfortable, inconvenient, and often a sign that you’re coming down with a viral infection. While sore throats are frustrating enough during the day, they’re even worse at night when they’re keeping you awake because swallowing hurts. Everyone wants to know how to get rid of a sore throat because when you’re in pain and just want to go to sleep, you’re willing to try anything. However, not all sore throat remedies are created equal, and some are definitely more effective than others. 

Remedies That Work

Let’s start with the sore throat remedies that you should try. Remember, while sore throats can be a sign of the common cold coming on or another type of infectious disease, they can also be a side effect of talking more than normal during the day, dry air, irritants in the air, or having a little too much fun at last night’s concert. Tackle your sore throat by trying these remedies:

  • Gargling with salt water or baking soda: Your mother probably told you to use a saltwater gargle when you were a little kid, but do you know why? As it turns out, saltwater helps to reduce swelling and ease irritation in the throat, helping to alleviate some of the symptoms temporarily. You can also gargle with baking soda, which has the added benefit of breaking up mucus and soothing acid reflux that could be irritating your throat. Try dissolving half a teaspoon of salt or baking soda in a glass of warm water and gargling every three hours. 
  • Get steamy: Humidity is a magical thing, and there are two ways you can easily get it in your home. If you have a humidifier, plug it in next to where you’re resting and breathe in the moist air. This will help loosen mucus and moisturize your throat, providing relief. No humidifier? No problem. Take a nice hot shower and breathe in all the steam to keep your throat moist
  • Rest: It may not be the most exciting option on the list, but resting can help soothe your sore throat by giving your body extra energy to fight off infection faster. If you can’t physically take a nap or get to bed any earlier, at least rest your voice and try to limit the amount of time you spend talking each day.
  • Get plenty of fluids: You may have been told to sip on warm drinks as a kid, or maybe your mom preferred that you use cold liquids. Both are equally effective for treating a sore throat! Warm beverages like chicken soup, herbal tea, or chamomile tea can help reduce coughs and soothes the back of the throat while also helping to clear mucus from your throat. A cold cup of water or a popsicle have a numbing effect that can take away some of the soreness from a throat infection. Try both and see which one you prefer!
  • Taste a toddy: You might not expect to be told to drink alcohol when you’re sick, but hot toddies are actually extremely effective at soothing a sore throat. The warm liquid contains honey, whiskey, water, lemon juice, and sometimes spices, each of which has a purpose. Honey coats a sore throat and reduces sore throat pain, and it has also been shown to reduce coughing. A small amount of whiskey helps to thin mucus, allowing it to be expelled more easily, and it also helps your immune system fight infection by opening the blood vessels in the throat and tonsils. If you choose to add spices like peppermint to your beverage, you may find that you produce more saliva, which helps with mucus flow. 
  • Over the counter medications: Not every remedy for sore throats has to be natural, and there’s nothing wrong with reaching for a throat lozenge or over the counter pain relievers to ease your symptoms. A nice menthol hard candy lozenge or throat spray can do the trick. Unfortunately, you can’t treat a sore throat with antibiotics since it's not a bacterial infection, but you can use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. Tylenol or acetaminophen is another option for pain relief if you can’t take NSAIDs.

Remedies to Skip

While there are plenty of natural remedies to try and lots of effective over the counter medications that can ease the symptoms of a sore throat, some home remedies should be skipped because they haven’t been proven effective. 

  • Apple cider vinegar: Proponents of apple cider vinegar love it because it’s reported to have antibacterial uses and help to fight infections, but scientists are divided over how effective it actually is. Because most sore throats are caused by viruses rather than bacteria, the antibacterial component of apple cider vinegar isn’t likely to be helpful in fighting your sore throat.
  • Hot sauce or cayenne pepper: Much like apple cider vinegar, some people swear by cayenne pepper for relieving the pain associated with sore throats. Cayenne pepper contains a substance called capsaicin, which is a natural compound that blocks pain receptors. Unfortunately, this remedy hasn’t been scientifically unproven, and trying it out can be pretty uncomfortable. It’s best to skip this one.
  • Essential oils: Essential oils are very popular these days, but they are not scientifically proven to be safe or effective treatments of sore throats or other illnesses. There is also a great deal of quality variation among different brands of oils, so it’s a good idea to look for a different remedy for your sore throat. 

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When to See a Doctor

While many sore throats go away on their own as quickly as they came, there are times when you should see a doctor. If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your doctor and make an appointment as it may be caused by something that requires specialized treatment like strep throat, tonsillitis, or a coronavirus like COVID-19:

  • Prolonged or severe throat pain that is not improving
  • Throat pain that extends into your ear
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
  • White spots or patches on the back of your throat
  • A high fever
  • Coughing up blood or bloody saliva
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing or opening your mouth
  • Losing your voice for more than a week 

Don’t forget to wash your hands regularly, especially while you’re experiencing symptoms that could be early cold symptoms, like a sore throat or runny nose, and get plenty of rest.

Published July 16th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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