A sore throat refers to throat pain, itchiness, or irritation. Throat pain is the primary symptom. The pain may get worse when you try to swallow, making it difficult to consume foods and liquids.

Even if a sore throat isn’t serious enough for a trip to the doctor, it’s still painful and may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. You can use at-home remedies to soothe the pain and irritation.

Generally speaking, the remedies discussed below may help ease a mild or typical sore throat. If you have a severe sore throat, particularly if it’s getting worse or has lasted several days, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a doctor to discuss your symptoms.

Honey mixed in tea or taken on its own is a common home remedy for the symptoms of a sore throat.

According to a 2021 article, honey is just as effective as the cough suppressant dextromethorphan at taming coughs in children. Dextromethorphan is an active ingredient in products such as Robitussin and Delsym.

A 2021 literature review examined the effect of honey on acute upper respiratory tract infections. The researchers concluded that honey was more effective at relieving symptoms than some traditional remedies. These remedies included antibiotics and the antihistamine diphenhydramine.

On honey

Because of the risk of infant botulism, children younger than 1 year old should not consume honey.

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.

Make a saltwater solution by adding a half-teaspoon of salt to a full glass of warm water. Gargle with it to help reduce swelling and keep the throat clear.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, people with a sore throat should perform a saltwater gargle at least once an hour.

While the saltwater gargle is more commonly used, gargling with a baking soda-saltwater mixture can also help relieve a sore throat. This oral solution can kill bacteria and prevent the growth of fungi.

If you have a sore mouth, the National Cancer Institute recommends gargling with and gently swishing around a combination of:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt

The NCI suggests using the rinse three or four times a day and following up by rinsing your mouth with plain water.

Did you know?

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat, whooping cough, and diphtheria, are responsible for only a small percentage of sore throats.

Naturally soothing chamomile tea has long been used for medicinal purposes, including treating a sore throat. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and astringent properties.

According to an older 2010 literature review, research has shown that inhaling chamomile steam can help relieve symptoms of a cold, including a sore throat.

Drinking chamomile tea may offer the same benefit. It may also stimulate the immune system to help your body fight off the infection that caused your sore throat in the first place.

Peppermint is well known for its ability to freshen the breath. It also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as some antibacterial and antiviral qualities, according to a 2019 literature review.

In addition, peppermint contains the compound menthol, which helps thin mucus and calm sore throats and coughs.

While many peppermint teas are available for purchase, you can also make your own. Place some dried peppermint leaves in boiled water and let the mixture sit for a few minutes. After a few minutes have passed, strain the tea and allow it to cool slightly.

Diluted peppermint oil sprays may also relieve sore throats. To make a spray, mix a few drops of food-grade peppermint oil with 1 ounce of a plant-based oil, such as:

On oils

If you want to make a peppermint oil spray, be sure to use peppermint oil that’s been designated as food grade and safe for internal use.

Never ingest essential oils, and never apply them to the skin without first mixing them with a plant-based oil. When used topically as in aromatherapy, these plant-based oils are known as carrier oils.

The herb fenugreek is available in many forms. You can eat fenugreek seeds, apply fenugreek oil to the skin, or drink fenugreek tea. Fenugreek tea is a common remedy for sore throats.

A 2018 literature review demonstrates the healing powers of fenugreek. Among other benefits, it can help:

  • relieve pain, such as menstrual cramps
  • kill bacteria that cause irritation or inflammation
  • serve as an effective antifungal
  • promote lactation

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) suggests that pregnant people avoid consuming large doses of fenugreek.

On herbal remedies

Be careful when using herbal remedies, and be sure to buy them from a reputable source. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor herbs and supplements for quality or safety.

Also, supplements may differ from batch to batch. Lack of regulation means that different bottles may contain different medicinal doses.

Marshmallow root, a type of herb, contains mucilage, a mucus-like substance that coats and soothes a sore throat. A 2019 literature review notes that marshmallow root can be helpful for irritations of the respiratory tract, which may include sore throat.

Marshmallow root is available:

  • as an herbal tea
  • as a tincture
  • dried and in capsule form

Keep in mind that marshmallow products, like the kinds used in your favorite desserts, don’t typically contain marshmallow root.

Licorice root has long been used to treat sore throats. An older 2009 study on postoperative sore throat showed that licorice is effective at relieving symptoms when it’s mixed with water to create a gargling solution.

Additionally, a 2019 study found that, out of several herbal infusions, licorice root tea was the most effective at inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus pyogenes. This bacterium causes strep throat.

Licorice root remedies may not be safe for people who are pregnant or nursing, according to the NCCIH.

Like marshmallow root, slippery elm also contains mucilage. When mixed with water, slippery elm forms a slick gel that coats and soothes the throat.

To use slippery elm, pour boiling water over powdered bark, stir it, and drink. You may also find that slippery elm lozenges help.

Slippery elm is a traditional remedy for sore throat, but more research on its effectiveness is still needed.

Slippery elm may slow the absorption of some oral medications. To prevent possible drug interactions, use slippery elm at least 1 hour before taking oral medications.

Garlic has natural antibacterial properties as well. It contains allicin, a compound known for its ability to fight off infections, according to a 2014 literature review on the many therapeutic uses of garlic.

Taking garlic supplements on a daily basis can help prevent and treat upper respiratory tract infections, according to a 2018 article. These same respiratory tract infections may potentially cause a sore throat.

Adding fresh garlic to your diet is one way of taking advantage of its antimicrobial properties. Try sucking on or chewing a garlic clove. You may want to brush your teeth afterward to protect them from enzymes and improve your breath.

Often used as a pain reliever, cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a natural compound known for blocking pain receptors.

Anecdotal evidence suggests ingesting cayenne mixed with warm water and honey can help with sore throat pain, but this hasn’t been proven scientifically.

Start with a light sprinkle of cayenne or a few drops of hot sauce, as both can be very hot. Keep in mind that an initial burning sensation is common.

You should not take cayenne if you have open sores in your mouth.

Cold fluids can help to numb the pain from a sore throat. In addition to drinking cold fluids, you can also suck on an ice pop or ice cube.

An older 2012 survey asked people how they experienced and treated a sore throat. The results showed that participants used cold drinks more often when their sore throat was thought to be caused by physical or environmental factors as opposed to infections.

Air conditioning is an example of a physical factor, while environmental factors include secondhand smoke and air pollution.

Chicken soup is supposed to be a tried-and-true remedy for respiratory and throat conditions. You’ve probably heard many anecdotes about this remedy, but an older study also supports its use.

The activity of various immune cells can contribute to inflammation, including in a sore throat. A 2000 study tested chicken soup’s ability to reduce the migration of specific immune cells, called neutrophils, in a laboratory setting.

The researchers found that chicken soup did indeed inhibit the migration of these cells in a dose-dependent manner. The researchers also noted that specific brands of chicken soup varied in their inhibitory activity.

Dry air can further irritate a sore throat. Adding some additional moisture to the air can help. For example, inhaling steam can help to ease a sore throat.

To do this, add just-boiled water to a bowl. Drape a towel over your head and breathe normally, allowing the steam to enter in through your mouth and nose. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes. You may need to add more just-boiled water to the bowl to keep it steamy.

Another option is to turn your shower to a hot setting and shut the bathroom door. Once the bathroom steams up, you can inhale the warm, humid air.

You can also add moisture to the air using a humidifier. However, a 2017 literature review noted that heated, humidified air delivered by a humidifying device didn’t show any benefits or harms for treating the common cold.

Another home remedy for sore throat that you may have heard about is the hot toddy. This drink contains honey, lemon, whiskey, and boiling hot water.

There aren’t any studies that show that having a hot toddy helps with sore throat. However, an older 2008 study found that drinking a hot fruit drink provided immediate, long lasting relief from cold symptoms, including sore throat.

The benefits of honey have already been discussed. A 2020 literature review noted that lemon has anti-inflammatory activities, which may be helpful for sore throat. The only ingredient to watch out for is whiskey, as alcohol can lead to dehydration and may irritate the throat.

To make a hot toddy, check out this easy recipe from the blog Cookie and Kate.

At the end of the day, resting up may be just what you need. If you feel a sore throat coming on, try to take it easy and ensure you’re getting enough sleep.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that sleep loss can increase your risk of developing an infection. Serious sleep loss, even for one night, can also lead to an increase in inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

It may also be a good idea to rest your voice as well. Actions such as talking loudly, singing, or shouting may further irritate your already tender throat.

Sore throats in infants and young children are definitely not fun, but the good news is that they rarely signal a medical emergency on their own. Still, infants and children may require different treatments than adults.

Here are a few tips:

  • Add a cool mist humidifier to your child’s room. Moisture in the air can help relieve sore throat pain.
  • Keep children hydrated by encouraging them to drink as much as possible. Avoid juices or ice pops with lots of citrus, since they’re acidic and may cause irritation.
  • Children under 5 years should not be given hard lozenges or anything else that might pose a choking risk. Use caution when giving lozenges to elementary-school-aged children.
  • Do not give honey to children who are younger than 1 year old.

There are several over-the-counter (OTC) treatments you can try when natural remedies just aren’t cutting it. They include:

  • acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is safe to give to young children
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), which also comes in formulations for children
  • throat lozenges
  • sore throat pops, which are an alternative to throat lozenges for younger children
  • powders that you stir into warm water, such as those made by Theraflu
  • throat numbing sprays, which may contain the compound phenol
  • eucalyptus, which you’ll likely find in natural cough syrups and throat lozenges

If you have a sore throat, exposure to certain foods or environmental factors can worsen your symptoms. While you’re recovering, try to avoid the following things:

Here are some additional questions you may have regarding sore throats.

What is the cause behind a sore throat?

There are several different causes of a sore throat.

They include viruses, such as those that cause colds, the flu, and COVID-19. Bacteria, specifically those that cause strep throat, can cause a sore throat too.

Allergies to substances such as pollen, mold, and pet dander are another possible cause. So are irritants in the environment, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, or chemical fumes.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a tumor in the throat can cause a sore throat as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a viral infection is the most common cause of a sore throat.

How long does a sore throat last?

The exact amount of time that a sore throat lasts can depend on what’s causing it. Many sore throats go away on their own within 1 week.

It’s important to see a doctor if your sore throat doesn’t improve after 1 week. Also see a doctor if your sore throat worsens, despite home or OTC remedies.

How do I fight off an impending sore throat?

It’s not always possible to fight off an impending sore throat. However, there are some things that you can do if you feel a sore throat coming on.

Try resting up and limiting your exposure to things that may further irritate your throat. Also try reducing your stress levels, as high stress can negatively affect your immune system.

Sipping on warm liquids and staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water can help too. Using a humidifier can add moisture to dry air.

How do I prevent sore throat?

There are a few steps you can take that may help you prevent sore throat.

Stay away from people who have an infectious illness such as the flu or strep throat. Wash your hands frequently.

Try to avoid spicy or acidic foods, which can irritate the throat. Also keep away from chemicals or smoke, as the fumes could cause inflammation.

Most doctors recommend calling a doctor only in cases of severe sore throat. This typically includes situations where sore throat occurs with a fever or rash (or when swollen tonsils block the throat).

Trying out some of these natural remedies may help you feel better and save you a trip to the doctor’s office.

To feel your best, make sure you also drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. See a doctor if your sore throat doesn’t get better or begins to get worse, despite the use of home or OTC remedies.