A sore throat can be the first sign of a cold, a side effect of strained vocal cords, or an indication of something more serious (like strep throat).
Regardless of the cause, your immediate concern when soreness strikes is how to get relief.
Here are some things to try the next time you’re feeling scratchy, hoarse, or just plain sick.
One of the most effective treatments for sore throat is probably already in your medicine cabinet: an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Paracetamol.
These medicines are combination pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, so they’ll make you feel better and they’ll also reduce some of the swelling associated with a sore throat. If you have a fever that’s also contributing to your symptoms, they can help reduce that as well.
Several studies have found that gargling several times a day with warm salt water can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria.
If the salty taste is too unpleasant for you, try adding a small amount of honey to sweeten the mixture slightly. (Just remember to spit the water out after gargling, rather than swallowing!)
Sucking on cough drops stimulates saliva production, which can help keep your throat moist. But many varieties are no more effective than hard candies. For an added benefit, choose brands with a cooling or numbing ingredient, like menthol or eucalyptus.
Even if you don’t have a cough (yet), over-the-counter cough syrups can help ease soreness. Like drops and sprays, they coat the throat and provide temporary pain relief.
If you’re headed to work, be sure to choose a non-drowsy formula. But if you’re having trouble sleeping due to a sore throat, a nighttime formula like NyQuil (which contains a pain reliever and an antihistamine) or Robitussin AC (guaifenesin and codeine) can relieve pain and help you get some shuteye.
Staying hydrated is very important, especially when you’re sick and your throat is irritated or inflamed.You should be drinking enough fluid so that your urine is light yellow or clear. This keeps your mucous membranes moist and better able to combat bacteria and irritants like allergens, and makes your body better able to fight back against other cold symptoms.
Water always works (ice cubes, too!), but you can also change it up with something slightly sugary, like a watered-down fruit juice, or something salty, like chicken broth.
Tired of drinking water? A warm cup of herbal tea can offer immediate, soothing relief for a sore throat. What’s more, non-herbal teas—whether they’re made with black, green, or white leaves—contain antioxidants that are thought to strengthen immunity and ward off infection.
For an extra boost, add a teaspoon of honey. It’ll help the “medicine” go down, and it has antibacterial properties that may help you heal faster.
It may not be the quickest solution, but getting some rest is probably the best thing you can do to battle the infection that caused your sore throat in the first place.
The vast majority of sore throats are caused by cold viruses, and we know that there’s very little we can do to cure a cold once we’ve got it. Making sure your body is well rested will at least help it fight off the virus so you can get better sooner.
Every once and a while—about 10% of the time in adults—a sore throat will be caused by a bacterial infection such as Streptococcus pyogenes. (Taking antibiotics for a sore throat caused by a virus will not be effective.)
Always take the full course of medicine, even if you feel better after a few days.