Over the past few decades, we've seen a rise in bacteria capable of resisting our modern antibiotics. The result has been potentially dangerous and even deadly infections.
The overuse of antibiotics can contribute to resistant bacteria, so doctors now ask patients to think twice about asking for prescriptions. Sore throats, for example, are often caused by viral, not bacterial infections. That means antibiotics won't help. We have some natural solutions, however, that may make you feel better.
Allergies, dry air, and outdoor pollution, as well as illnesses like the common cold, flu, measles, chickenpox, mononucleosis (mono), and the croup, can all cause sore throats. These illnesses are all viral infections that will not respond to antibiotics.
Bacterial infections are responsible for only a small percentage of sore throats, including those linked with strep throat, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Most doctors recommend calling a doctor only in cases of severe sore throat accompanied by a fever, or when swollen tonsils block the throat.
Even if a sore throat isn't serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, it's still painful and may interfere with a good night's sleep. Fortunately, there are a number of at-home remedies you can use to soothe the pain and irritation.
Licorice root has long been used to treat sore throats, and recent research shows it is effective when mixed with water to create a gargle solution. A 2009 study, for instance, found it soothed patients' throats and diminished coughing after surgery.
We don't have many studies on slippery elm, but it's long been a traditional remedy for sore throat. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Native Americans took it to relieve coughs and sore throats.
Slippery elm has a mucus-like substance in it. When mixed with water, this substance forms a slick gel that coats and soothes. To use, pour boiling water over powdered bark, stir, and drink. You may also find slippery elm lozenges that will help.
Honey mixed in tea or simply taken straight up has long been a home remedy for sore throat. Scientific studies have confirmed this natural wonder works. A study of 139 children with upper respiratory infections, for example, found that honey was even more effective at taming nighttime coughs than common cough suppressants.
Studies have also shown that honey is an effective wound healer, which means it may also help speed healing for sore throats.
Your mother may have recommended gargling with salt water. If so, she was probably right. According to Student Health Services at the University of Connecticut, gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat and break down secretions. It's also known to help kill bacteria in the throat.
The University of Puget Sound adds that a salt water solution consisting of a half teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water can help reduce swelling and keep the throat clean.
Like slippery elm, marshmallow root contains a mucus-like substance that coats and soothes a sore throat. Simply add some of the dried root to a cup of boiling water to make tea. Sipping the tea two to three times a day may help ease throat pain.
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that few studies have been conducted on marshmallow in humans. However, they also note that some research has found that marshmallow solutions can help soothe irritated mucous membranes.
Sage and echinacea together may help reduce sore throat symptoms. A 2009 study observed 154 patients at least 12 years old with sore throats. For the next three days, these participants received either an echinacea/sage throat spray or a medicinal chlorhexidine/lidocaine spray. They used two puffs every two hours, up to 10 times a day.
Results showed that the echinacea/sage spray was just as effective as the medicinal spray for treating sore throats.
How about a comfortable throat and fresh breath at the same time? The American Cancer Society notes sprays containing peppermint oil may relieve sore throats. The University of Maryland Medical Center adds that peppermint has menthol, which helps thin mucus and calm sore throats and coughs.
A 2011 study also found that a combination of five herbs, including peppermint, when used in a spray solution, improved sore throat more than a placebo. A 2008 study reported peppermint contains anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, which may help encourage healing.
Other potential sore throat soothers include eucalyptus, which you'll likely find in natural throat lozenges and cough syrups, and chamomile tea. Trying out these various natural remedies—while making sure to drink lots of fluids and get your rest—may help you feel better more quickly, and save you a trip to the doctor's office.