Fall and winter are prime times for scratchy, raw throats, thanks to the variety of viruses in circulation and drier indoor air. To soothe a sore throat, you can turn to these seven remedies you’ll find both in your medicine cabinet — and kitchen cabinets.
Drinking a few extra glasses of water or fruit juice is always good advice when you have an upper respiratory infection. The extra liquid loosens mucus and replaces fluid your body loses to fever. Warm liquids — such as tea, hot cocoa, or chicken broth — feel especially soothing on the throat. Or cool the irritation if that feels better, by sucking on a popsicle or ice chips.
One study done back in 2005 found gargling three times a day with salt water helped prevent upper respiratory infections. Although there’s no real evidence gargling once you’re sick will relieve your sore throat, there’s no harm in trying it. Mix about ½ teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water and gargle with this combo throughout the day if it helps you.
You can buy medicated cough drops, but really, any hard candy will do the job by moistening your throat. Keep a stock of suckers by your bed for those mornings when you wake up feeling like a desert has settled around your tonsils. “Having lozenges or hard candies — or anything that stimulates saliva production — will keep your throat moist,” says Valerie Riddle, MD, an infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health. Don’t give lozenges to children younger than 3 because of the choking risk.
Dry air is often the cause of winter scratchiness. Turn on a cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air — and to your throat.
The sprays you buy at your local pharmacy contain an anesthetic (typically benzocaine) that numbs the back of the throat. Sprays won’t eliminate a sore throat, but they can temporarily ease the pain. Use caution when using these products on children, though, because the active ingredient in some throat sprays can cause allergic reactions.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) relieve pain throughout the body, including in the throat.
This general health advice also applies when you’re sick. Cigarette smoke is loaded with toxic chemicals that irritate the throat.
Because most sore throats are due to a virus, an antibiotic prescription is usually unnecessary, and unlikely to help. “Most sore throats… should be treated with rest and fluids and do not require a visit to the doctor,” said Michael L. Barnett, MD, an internal medicine research fellow at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The time to see your doctor is when your throat becomes really painful, or if it continues to hurt a week or more after your illness started. Also call for an appointment if you have throat pain plus more serious symptoms, such as a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, trouble breathing or swallowing, a rash, or joint pain.
November 27, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN