10 Expert-Backed Sore Throat Remedies – Forbes Health

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10 Expert-Backed Sore Throat Remedies – Forbes Health

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Medically Reviewed

Is your throat feeling dry and scratchy? Does it hurt to swallow or even talk? Chances are you have pharyngitis—the medical term for a sore throat, an ailment that affects millions of people every year.

While sore throats can happen at any time of year, they’re most common in winter when viral infections like colds and the flu—prime drivers of sore throats—run rampant and dry air fills our homes. Most sore throats resolve on their own, but it can be a tough few days until you start to feel better. Knowing what can help quell the pain and when you need medical help can make all the difference.

Sore throats have a variety of causes, but an estimated 70% to 95% of them are caused by viruses, including:

Other less common causes include:

So, what makes the throat so susceptible to infections and irritation?

“The nose and throat tissues serve as the first line of defense to potential invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, smoke, environmental pollutants, dry air and cold air,” says Soussan Ayubcha, M.D., a family physician with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“They serve as barriers to prevent these potential invaders and inhalants from getting further into the body,” she adds. “When an infection does gain access to the nose and throat area, it will lead to inflammation.”

Many sore throats caused by common viruses, allergies or environmental irritants can be treated with simple self-care measures and home remedies. The next time you have a sore throat, consider the nine strategies supported by experts below.

Aim to consume eight cups of fluids, such as water, non-caffeinated tea, broth or soup a day to keep yourself hydrated and your throat moist.

The warm water is soothing to the throat and the salt can help reduce inflammation—and the less inflammation you have, the less pain you’ll feel. The Cleveland Clinic suggests dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in warm water and gargling (being careful not to swallow) the mixture every three hours.

“Most studies are supportive for cough, but one study looked at manuka honey (a type of honey derived from the nectar of the manuka tree) specifically,” says Dr. Ayubcha. “They noted it had anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal properties and was able to coat the inner lining of the throat while destroying germs and soothing the throat.”

“Honey does contain glucose and fructose, so it’s important to be mindful of that fact if you have elevated blood sugar,” she adds. Try adding a tablespoon to a mug of herbal tea.

One caveat: Never give honey to a child under one year of age. Honey can contain a bacteria that’s not safe for infants.

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A review analyzing three studies found high-dose zinc acetate lozenges (subjects consumed 80 to 92 milligrams a day—much higher than the 8 to 11 milligram recommended daily dose) helped shorten the duration of the common cold. Overall, the lozenges decreased the duration of a scratchy throat by 33%, a sore throat by 18% and hoarseness by 43%[1]Hemilä H, Chalker E. The Effectiveness of High Dose Zinc Acetate Lozenges on Various Common Cold Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis. BMC Fam Pract. 2015;16:24. .

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Researchers observing patients who received tracheal intubation (a procedure in which a breathing tube is placed in the windpipe to keep an airway open) found those who gargled with a green tea solution after the tube was removed had less throat pain than those who gargled with distilled water. They note that green tea has anti-inflammatory properties that may help block throat pain[2]Jafari H, Ariaeifar MR, Yazdani Charati J, Soleimani A, Nasiri Formi E. The Effect of Green Tea Gargle Solution on Sore Throat After Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Anesth Pain Med. 2016;6(3):e32108. .

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Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory properties. “Wash and peel [fresh] ginger and slice it into thin slices,” suggests Dr. Ayubcha. “Put a teaspoon of thinly sliced ginger into 8 to 12 ounces of boiling filtered water and allow it to steep for five minutes. [This brew] can be safely consumed daily during acute symptoms.”

Licorice root and slippery elm are two long-established herbal supplements that can help relieve discomfort associated with a sore throat as well. They can be consumed easily in lozenge form and in tea form. Just be sure to read product labels carefully and follow any instructions provided.

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The combination of the cold and liquid will be soothing to a sore throat. Just be mindful of the sugar content of your chosen frozen treat. You can make your own healthy ice pops easily by freezing water infused with fresh fruit and herbs.

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Place a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom to help add moisture to throat-drying indoor air. Humidifiers can have a place in any room of your home, but they can be particularly beneficial while you sleep, especially if you sleep with your mouth open (even if temporarily due to a stuffy nose).

Try acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to help reduce pain-causing inflammation in the throat. “At this time, there’s no strong evidence to recommend [one pain reliever over the other],” says Dr. Ayubcha. “Ibuprofen does last longer for pain relief, but it also has potential side effects and may be contraindicated in some patients. Use the pain reliever recommended by your medical provider.”

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Some sore throats, particularly those caused by a bacterium like group A strep, need to be treated by your doctor with antibiotics. Indications that your sore throat may be strep throat include:

Seek immediate medical help if you have:

All of these symptoms may be signs of severe bacterial infections, such as an abscess of the tonsils or an infection of the tissue above the vocal cords.

Lastly, contact your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve within a few days, if they get worse, if you get frequent sore throats or if you’re concerned and simply want medical advice. “I tell my patients, ‘You know your body better than anyone else. If you feel something isn’t right, contact your provider. You’re usually right about your own health,’” says Dr. Ayubcha.

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Donna Christiano Campisano is a freelance writer specializing in women and children's health issues. She has written for numerous consumer publications and websites, including Parents, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Healthline and Verywell Health. She has also served on the staffs of both Glamour and Brides magazines as a researcher and copywriter. In addition to freelance writing, Christiano also works as a staff writer at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. She lives in the Tampa area with her family and beagle, Bananas.

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