It's scratchy, tender, and swollen, and you dread the simple task of swallowing. But you must swallow, and when you do, you brace yourself for the unavoidable pain. If you've got a sore throat, you're in good company; everybody gets them, and 40 million people trek to the doctor's office for treatment of one every year.
In this article, we'll discuss 22 ways to treat a sore throat, many using common items you can find in your kitchen. But first: What causes a sore throat.
The mechanics of a sore throat are pretty simple. It's an inflammation of the pharynx, which is the tube that extends from the back of the mouth to the esophagus. The following are the leading causes :
- Viral infection (colds, flu, etc.). Often accompanied by fever, achy muscles, and runny nose, viral infections can't be cured but their symptoms can be treated. A sore throat from a viral source will generally disappear on its own within several days.
- Bacterial infection, especially from streptococcal bacteria (strep throat). Symptoms are much like those of a viral infection but may be more severe and long lasting. Often a bacterial infection is accompanied by headache, stomachache, and swollen glands in the neck. A strep infection is generally treated with antibiotics because permanent heart or kidney damage can result. Culturing the bacteria is the only way a doctor can determine the cause of the sore throat.
While those are the primary reasons for a sore throat, there are others, including:
- Acid reflux
- Dry air, especially at night when you may sleep with your mouth open
- Mouth breathing
- Throat abuse: singing, shouting, coughing
- Polyps or cancer
- Infected tonsils
- Food allergy
A sore throat can be a minor, but annoying, ailment, or it can be a symptom of a serious illness. Causes range from a stuffy nose or a cold to strep throat, a bacterial throat infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. Since untreated strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever and scarlet fever, it's important to get medical help as early as possible into the illness. Along with producing severe soreness in your gullet, strep throat may be accompanied by fever, body aches and pains, and malaise.
If you have these symptoms, or if you have a sore throat lasting more than two or three days, it makes good sense to see a doctor. For mild sore throats that accompany a cold or allergy, there are soothing remedies using common household items that can stand alone or work side-by-side with traditional medicine to stifle that soreness. In the next section, we'll discuss home remedies for soothing a sore throat.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Try heading a sore throat off at the pass at the onset of a cold. Trying to avoid getting a sore throat may help lessen its effect or prevent it entirely. Try the following tips:
Keep your nasal passages clear. Doctors agree that two of the most common causes of sore-throat pain are postnasal drip and a dry throat that results from sleeping with your mouth open when your nasal passages are blocked. Decongestants, especially those containing pseudoephedrine (read package labels), may be helpful in stopping the flow; follow package directions carefully. Using saline nasal spray can help make breathing easier promptly though temporarily, and it's probably worth investing in a humidifier to run in your bedroom at night.
Rest and take it easy. Common sense dictates staying in bed or at least resting when a sore throat's got you down. Taking it easy leaves more energy to fight the infection.
If your sore throat doesn't require medical attention, it may be helped by a home remedy, using products such as mouthwash or throat spray or kitchen items such as tea. Try the suggestions below to relieve throat pain.
Home Remedies from the Kitchen
Gargle raspberry tea. Raspberry leaf tea can make a great gargle. (To make, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 teaspoons dried leaves. Steep for ten minutes, then strain. Allow to cool.) If you also have a fever, the gargle can be used as a fever-reducing drink, too. Do not drink any liquid you have used as a gargle.
Drink cider vinegar. This sore throat cure is found in several different remedies. Here are a few of the more popular ones:
- For sipping: Mix 1 tablespoon each of honey and cider vinegar in 1 cup warm water.
- For gargling: You'll need 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, and 1 cup warm water. Dissolve the salt in the vinegar, then mix in the water. Gargle every 15 minutes as necessary.
Drink lime juice. Combine 1 spoonful with a spoonful of honey and take as often as needed for a sore throat.
Gargle with warm salt water. If you can gargle without gagging, make a saline solution by adding 1/2 teaspoon salt to a cup of very warm water. Yes, when your mother told you to gargle with salt water, she knew what she was talking about. It cuts phlegm and reduces inflammation. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon salt in 1/2 cup warm water, and gargle every three to four hours.
Eat a juice bar. This is cold and soothing to a hot throat. Don't suck, though. Sucking may irritate the throat even more. Simply let small pieces melt in your mouth.
Drink hot liquids. Especially if you're not good at gargling, drink hot fluids, such as coffee, tea, or hot lemonade. Coating the tissue in your throat with warm liquid provides a benefit similar to applying hot packs to infected skin. (And sipping hot tea is more pleasant than trying to swallow a hot pack.)
Suck on hard candy. Think of a sore throat as an excuse to indulge your sweet tooth, since some doctors say that sugar can help soothe a sore throat, as well as the ticklish cough that may come with it. If nothing else, sucking on hard candy -- in the sugar-free variety -- can help keep your mouth and throat moist, which will make you feel more comfortable.
Steam it out. One old-fashioned remedy for a cold or sore throat is a steam tent -- sitting with your face over a bowl of steaming hot water and your head covered with a towel to keep the steam in. Adding 1 to 2 drops eucalyptus oil can be soothing. While it's easy to dismiss such a simple measure as an old wives' tale, several scientific studies have shown that steaming can actually shorten the duration of a throat infection.
Keep the fluids coming. Drink as much fluid as possible -- at least eight to ten 8-ounce glasses per day. Keeping your throat well lubricated with soothing liquids can prevent it from becoming dry and irritated and may even help banish the infection faster.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.
Remedies from the Spice Rack & Medicine Cabinet
From the Spice Rack
Suck on garlic. This Amish remedy can treat or prevent sore throats. Peel a fresh clove, slice it in half, and place 1 piece in each cheek. Suck on the garlic like a cough drop. Occasionally, crush your teeth against the garlic, not to bite it in half, but to release its allicin, a chemical that can kill the bacteria that causes strep.
Make a marjoram drink. Make a soothing tea with a spoonful of marjoram steeped in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Strain, then sweeten to taste with honey.
Gargle with sage. This curative herb is a great sore-throat gargle. Mix 1 teaspoon in 1 cup boiling water. Steep for ten minutes, then strain. Add 1 teaspoon each cider vinegar and honey, then gargle four times a day.
Gargle turmeric. Try this gargle to calm a cranky throat. Mix together 1 cup hot water, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Gargle with the mixture twice a day. If you're not good with the gargle, mix 1/2 teaspoon turmeric in 1 cup hot milk and drink. Turmeric stains clothing, so be careful when mixing and gargling.
Home Remedies from the Medicine Cabinet
Gargle with Listerine. Another good gargling fluid is Listerine mouthwash. If you share the product with anyone else in your household, don't drink straight from the bottle; instead, pour a small amount into a cup (and don't share that, either).
Take an analgesic. Plain old aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can do wonders for sore-throat pain. However, aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 19 because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition. Pregnant and nursing women should check with their doctor before taking any medication. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Spray it. Analgesic sprays, such as Chloraseptic, may be effective in temporarily relieving sore-throat pain. The only problem is that the effect doesn't last long. You may have to spray several times an hour. However, the sprays won't harm you and may take the edge off an extremely painful throat.
Also, when treating a sore throat, nix the colas and scratchy foods, such as chips and pretzels. They'll irritate an already irritated throat -- which hopefully one of the above treatments will cure!
For more information about simple treatments for nasal, throat and other ailments, check out the following articles:
Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.
Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.
ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:
Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
Publications International, Ltd.