Your poor sore throat. Is there anything that can help? A sore throat makes it more difficult to eat, drink, sleep, talk and generally function — and who wants that?
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What’s even more frustrating is that sore throats can be caused by a myriad of maladies — from allergies to the common cold, from bacterial infections like strep throat to other issues.
“The best way to get to the bottom of what’s causing your sore throat is to visit your doctor,” says family medicine specialist Daniel Allan, MD. But if you can’t make an appointment right away, Dr. Allan shares the most effective home remedies for a sore throat that’ll hold you over for a few days — along with those that don’t quite work as advertised.
How long does a sore throat last?
It really depends on what’s causing your sore throat. “Most sore throats will dissipate within three to 10 days if it’s caused by a viral infection like a cold,” says Dr. Allan.
If a bacterial infection like strep or allergies is the culprit, your sore throat could last longer if not treated with appropriate antibiotics or medications.
Once you’re properly diagnosed and treated for a bacterial infection, your sore throat should clear up within a day or so.
6 home remedies to get rid of a sore throat
In the meantime, try some of Dr. Allan’s tried-and-true ways to alleviate your sore throat.
1. Warm and cold fluids
Sip on warm drinks, like tea or chicken soup. (It’s not just good for the soul, you know!) Or try cold liquids, such as ice water or popsicles. It depends on your preference and what soothes your throat best.
“Liquids help clear mucous membranes, keep things flowing and prevent sinus infections,” says Dr. Allan. Warm temperatures may also reduce coughs by soothing the back of your throat. Try both warm and cold to see what works best for you.
Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt — or a similar amount of baking soda — in a glass of warm water. Gargle (but don’t swallow) the concoction every three hours for an all-natural sore throat remedy.
Salt water can help reduce swelling and irritation in your throat. Baking soda also soothes the throat, breaks up mucus and can help with throat-irritating acid reflux.
3. Over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers
An antihistamine may dull or relieve throat pain. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen also help with pain that’s located a little deeper in your glands and other parts of your neck.
“Histamines are chemicals that help your immune system fight foreign substances. But sometimes, they go overboard, triggering symptoms (such as congestion and post-nasal drip) that can make a sore throat feel worse,” explains Dr. Allan. Antihistamines can counteract this overreaction.
4. Steam and humidity
Take a hot shower. When it gets really steamy, breathe in the throat-clearing magic. Dr. Allan says steam loosens mucus and can moisturize and soothe a sore throat.
5. Hot toddy
A hot toddy is a drink combo made with water, whiskey, honey and lemon juice and served hot. Some people add spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger. Oh yeah — you should also be of legal drinking age to try this one. Sorry, kids.
Dr. Allan shares why hot toddies can be very soothing:
- Honey coats your throat and soothes it by reducing irritation. Honey also has antibacterial properties, and the sweetness can calm your throat’s nerve endings and reduce coughing.
- Whiskey (a small amount; too much can dehydrate you) breaks up and thins mucus. Whiskey also dilates your blood vessels on the surface of your throat, so immune cells in your blood can multiply and fight the infection.
- Spices stimulate saliva production, improving both hydration and mucus flow in your throat.
Put your head on your pillow at a decent hour and close your eyes. Repeat as necessary.
“Don’t underestimate physically resting your body and voice,” Dr. Allan says. But beware: Lying flat can sometimes cause swelling due to an increase in pressure at the back of your throat. Instead, try elevating the bed or sitting propped up or in a chair to alleviate the pain and discomfort.
Home remedies for sore throat to avoid
Dr. Allan warns that not all sore throat remedies are created equally. He recommends you pass on these two:
- Apple cider vinegar. “It probably has some antibacterial properties, but that’s not going to do much for the sore throat itself.”
- Essential oils. “They haven’t been well-studied or clinically proven for safety or effectiveness.”
And avoid things that can irritate your throat, including:
- Dry air.
- Acidic foods or spicy foods.
- Lying down immediately after you eat, especially if you have acid reflux.
When to see a doctor about throat pain
Dr. Allan advises using common sense when deciding whether to seek out medical care.
Call your doctor if you:
- Have throat pain that’s severe, prolonged or not improving, or stretches into your ear.
- Have trouble swallowing, breathing or opening your mouth.
- Are coughing up blood or have blood in your saliva.
- Feel enlarged lymph nodes, or lumps, in your neck.
- Have white patches on the back of your throat or a rash, possible signs of strep throat or scarlet fever.
- Have a high fever.
- Lose your voice for more than a week or two.
And remember, when it comes to illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wash your hands often. And if you do get sick, Dr. Allan recommends immediately replacing your toothbrush with a fresh, germ-free one.