You’ve likely experienced the symptoms of a sore throat in your lifetime. Itching, scratching, and burning aren’t fun, especially if they’re accompanied by other symptoms of a cold or a more serious virus. Sore throats can be downright miserable.
However, in most cases, you can find relief without immediately running to your doctor. Here are 10 ways to feel better when a sore throat sets in:
- saltwater gargle
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief
- echinacea/sage spray
- steam shower
- raise your head
Gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a scratchy throat. The salt pulls the mucus out of your swollen, inflamed tissue and helps relieve the discomfort.
The Mayo Clinic recommends combining 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt with 4 to 8 ounces of warm water. Stir until the salt dissolves. Then gargle with it for several seconds and spit it out. Repeat the salt gargle several times each day.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) throat lozenges contain menthol, an ingredient that can gently numb the tissue in your throat. This can provide you with temporary relief from burning and pain sensations. In a pinch, candies can have the same effect.
Candy and cough drops increase your saliva production and help keep your throat lubricated. However, candy and cough drops won’t soothe your sore throat for as long as medicated lozenges or relieve it as effectively, and you may find yourself needing relief again soon.
Avoid giving lozenges or cough drops to young children. Both are a choking hazard.
OTC pain relief
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viruses cause most sore throats. Viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics, which only kill bacteria. Instead, the virus has to run its course in your body.
OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve) can reduce inflammation and swelling in your throat. They can also relieve soreness or scratchiness.
Warm tea that is sweetened with honey can help soothe your irritated throat. Tea also keeps you hydrated, which is another important step in treating a sore throat. Brew up a cup next time a sore throat starts to tickle.
You might consider choosing a green tea, which serves as an antibacterial, pain reliever, and rich source of antioxidants, as well as helps reduce inflammation.
Use a few spritzes of a spray containing a combination of echinacea and sage. A study in the European Journal of Medical Research finds this herbal remedy soothes a sore throat as well as OTC sore throat relief sprays.
Staying hydrated is an important part of treating a sore throat. When you’re dehydrated, your body can’t produce enough saliva and mucus to keep your throat naturally lubricated. This will make the swelling and inflammation worse.
Water is a good choice, as are warm teas or warm soups. Hot tea or hot soup, however, may actually burn your already sensitive throat and make the problem worse.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dry you out even more.
Breathing in moist air can help soothe swollen tissue in your nose and throat. Turn on a cool mist humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in your room. You can buy humidifiers at most retailers.
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If you don’t have a humidifier, you can still get relief from moist air. Breathe in the steam from a warm shower to help reduce swelling and ease the pain of a sore throat.
You can also create steam by running very hot water into a sink. Drape a towel over your head and lean into the sink to breathe in the steam. Keep taking deep breaths for several minutes, and repeat as necessary to ease your sore throat.
You might try boiling some water in a pot on the stove for 30 minutes to increase humidity in your house. Add a tablespoon of menthol ointment such as Vick’s VapoRub to the boiling water to fill the air with decongestant menthol aromas.
Raise your head
When congestion comes with your sore throat, prop an extra pillow or two under your head. The extra height will help you breathe easier. With your congestion relieved, you won’t have to sleep with your mouth open, which can dry out your throat and cause it to hurt even more.
Viruses cause most sore throats, but sometimes the culprit can be bacteria such as streptococcus, which causes strep throat. If your sore throat doesn’t go away or gets worse, or you’re running a fever, see your doctor for a strep test. You might need an antibiotic.
If your doctor does prescribe an antibiotic, finish the entire course. Don’t stop taking the medicine, even if your symptoms disappear and you begin to feel better. Stopping the antibiotic could leave some bacteria behind to re-infect you, and these bacteria that survive may no longer respond to the antibiotic.
Sore throats are a common childhood ailment. They’re often caused by viruses and will get better in four or five days. If your child is running a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, pay a visit to the pediatrician. A fever could be a sign of strep throat. Because strep is caused by bacteria, it needs to be treated with an antibiotic.
You can relieve the pain of your child’s sore throat with medicine such as acetaminophen (Children’s Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Children’s Advil, Children’s Motrin). Just check with your pediatrician first if your child is less than six months old. Don’t give aspirin (Bufferin) to kids younger than 18, because of the risk of a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
Here are a few other ways to relieve your child’s throat pain:
- Mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 8 ounces of warm water, and have your child gargle with it. Kids over the age of 6 are usually old enough to gargle without swallowing.
- Give your child warm liquids, such as chicken broth or tea. Kids over a year old can have a little honey mixed into the tea to soothe their throat.
- Let your child suck on something cold, such as an ice pop.
Avoid using sore throat sprays on children. These products contain the anesthetic benzocaine (Anbesol), which can cause an allergic reaction in some kids.
See a doctor
You don’t have to endure a sore throat. Plenty of OTC treatments and home remedies can help you find relief from the pain and discomfort.
If the pain doesn’t improve, see your doctor. Also make an appointment if you:
One way to prevent exposure to the germs that cause sore throats is to wash your hands with warm water and soap throughout the day. If you don’t have access to a sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash your hands whenever you touch common surfaces such as doorknobs or keyboards, shake hands, or are exposed to people who are coughing or sneezing.
Try to avoid being around anyone who’s sick. Don’t share personal items, such as toothbrushes, glasses, and silverware, with anyone else. And keep up your body’s resistance by eating right, sleeping well, and exercising.