Feel better fast
by Amanda MacMillanA 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, fast. You may be tempted to run to your doctor, but some of the best treatments are home remedies and over-the-counter meds, says Jeffrey Linder, M.D., an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.
Here are 10 to try the next time you’re feeling scratchy, hoarse, or just plain sick.
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. 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. (Just remember to spit the water out after gargling, rather than swallowing!)
Lozenges and sprays
Sucking on cough drops stimulates saliva production, which can help keep your throat moist. But many varieties are no more effective than hard candies, Dr. Linder says. For an added benefit, choose brands with a cooling or numbing ingredient, like menthol or eucalyptus.
Over-the-counter sprays like Chloraseptic produce an effect similar to cooling lozenges. They won’t cure your sore throat or help you fight off the underlying cold, but they may help dull the pain temporarily. Chloraseptic’s active ingredient, phenol, is a local antiseptic that also has antibacterial properties, Dr. Linder says.
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.
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.
Although there’s no hard evidence that it works, 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.