How to Soothe a Sore Throat Fast, According to Experts
What usually causes a sore throat?
Regardless of the cause, your immediate concern when soreness strikes is how to get relief, fast. You may be tempted to run to your doctor—and an MD can help if you have strep throat caused by a bacterial infection by prescribing antibiotics—but some of the best treatments are home remedies and over-the-counter meds, says Jeffrey Linder, MD, an internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Here are 14 to try the next time you're feeling scratchy, hoarse, or just plain sick.
RELATED: 10 Reasons You Have a Sore Throat
One of the most effective treatments for a sore throat is probably already in your medicine cabinet: an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Advil ($13 for 160 capsules; amazon.com) or Aleve ($18 for 270 caplets; amazon.com).
"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," Dr. Linder says. "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 a few times a day with warm saltwater can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria.
Doctors generally recommend dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water. (If the salty taste is too unpleasant for you, try adding a small amount of honey to sweeten the mixture slightly.) Then, tip your head back and gargle for about 30 seconds, and spit the water out afterwards (you definitely don't want to swallow it!).
Cough syrup, lozenges, or sprays
Sometimes that annoying scratch in your throat or incessant cough just won’t budge and you need additional remedies—preferably those that come from the medicine aisle in the drugstore.
Enter: Cough syrup, throat lozenges, and throat sprays. Though the medicines may conjure memories of too-sweet cherry and purple grape concoctions, there are plenty of adult-friendly options to soothe your throat, like Mucinex Fast-Max Cold, Flu, and Sore Throat Relief ($17, amazon.com), or Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray ($9, amazon.com).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking plenty of beverages and staying as hydrated as possible, to keep your throat coated and comfortable. Warm beverages may also help a bit more than cool ones, to soothe the throat, prevent dehydration, and even ease congestion.
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 may have antibacterial properties that may help you heal faster.
An age-old home remedy for colds, chicken soup can help soothe a sore throat, as well. "The sodium in the broth may actually have anti-inflammatory properties, and it can feel good going down," Dr. Linder says.
Soup has an added benefit when you're sick: Eating can be painful and difficult with a swollen or very sore throat, so sipping some liquid nourishment will ensure that you're getting the nutrients you need to fight off your infection.
OK hear us out: There's no hard evidence that it works, but sap from the marshmallow plant has been used for hundreds of years—usually in tea form—to treat coughs, colds, and sore throats. And while real marshmallow bears little relation to the puffy campfire treats that took its name, both may have sore throat-fighting properties.
According to anecdotal reports, modern-day marshmallows can help ease sore throat pain, possibly because the gelatin coats and soothes. "It's not the wackiest thing in the world," Dr. Linder says. "If your throat is really swollen and it really hurts to swallow anything, I can see how something slippery and sweet like marshmallows might provide some relief."
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, Dr. Linder says.
"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," he says. "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. If, and only if, you test positive for strep throat or another bacterial infection, your doctor should prescribe an antibiotic. (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.
While the idea of filling your nose with salty water may not exactly sound pleasant, there is some solid research to back up this at-home remedy. One study from 2008 found that children who rinsed with a saline nasal wash six times a day had improved cold symptoms.
That said, research published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that daily rinsing may reduce the amount of protective mucus in the nose, which ups the risk of cold and other infections. So if you opt to try a neti pot, do so only as needed and use distilled or sterile water, per the FDA's recommendation.
Break out the humidifier
If your throat is aching, sitting in a room with dry air is bound to make it way worse. In order to avoid this unpleasant environment, try a humidifier! This handy machine fills the air with moisture, making it much easier and more pleasant to breathe, which should calm your symptoms as a result.
A spoonful of honey
You know the phrase “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” But when it comes to easing a sore throat, a spoonful of honey will actually do the trick—the CDC even recommends giving it a try to help soothe a sore throat (just make sure not to give it to any children under 1 year old).
Not only does the thick, syrupy texture coat and soothe your throat, but it’s also believed to possess antimicrobial properties that may help you heal faster.
Yep, mom was onto something: The CDC recommends sucking on ice chips or a popsicle to help soothe a sore throat. While the store-bought one aren't necessarily the healthiest option, these homemade versions—ones that even contain turmeric or avocado—are better for you and pretty easy to make.
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