You notice a little tickle in your throat and think nothing of it. But soon, the back of your mouth feels swollen and fiery. You grimace from the burning pain every time you cough, swallow, or speak. That dry, tender, scratchy feeling becomes unbearable. You’ve got a sore throat, and it’s not showing signs of going away on its own any time soon.
You’re not alone. Every year, between visit their doctors with sore throats. And while a sore throat can strike during any season, this painful condition seems to be most prevalent during the winter when colds and flus are rampant.
“It’s hard to say exactly why sore throats seem to be more frequent during the colder months of the year,” says , DO, who’s board certified in family medicine. “It might be because people aren’t exercising as frequently as they do in the summer. Exercise enhances the body’s ability to circulate blood, vitamins, minerals, and hormones, which help the immune system. In the winter, people sometimes don’t cover up enough, as well, so that might contribute to sore throats.”
No matter what time of year you get a sore throat, you want relief—fast! The good news is that you don’t have to look far and wide to find sore throat remedies. In fact, your pantry might already have some powerful ingredients that offer natural pain relief and the pharmacy is chock full of safe medications that will soothe your burning throat. You can even combine pharmaceuticals with home remedies to give your throat pain a one-two punch.
Here’s what you need to know about what causes this sore throats, where to find the best sore throat remedies, when you should consider seeing a doctor for your throat pain, and how to prevent it from happening again.
What’s to blame for the pain?
When your mouth starts to feel icky and slimy, your throat gets dry and scratchy, and swallowing gets more difficult by the gulp, you have to wonder: What exactly is causing this unpleasant reaction in my body?
Chances are high that you’ve got a cold coming on. On average, adults suffer from every year. are typically caused by rhinoviruses, which can give you a slew of other nasty symptoms including a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, and body aches as well. Considering how lousy colds make people feel, it’s no surprise that they’re the main reason adults and children call out sick from work and school.
But a common cold isn’t the only reason you might have throat pain. The are dozens of other reasons why your throat might feel like it’s swollen or on fire.
“The most common is a viral infection that you picked up from someone else, maybe by a cough, a sneeze, a kiss. And bacterial causes are second most common,” says Calapai.
Strep throat, which is caused by bacteria, can cause swift-onset throat pain. It usually includes other , like a fever, red tonsils with streaks of pus, painful swallowing, and swollen lymph nodes. If you think you have strep throat, make an appointment with your doctor. They can test you for strep and prescribe antibiotics if necessary.
When you’re looking for sore throat remedies, it’s important to consider other causes of throat pain as well.
“Some people have problems with their necks where the discs press against the nerves, and that can cause a sore throat,” says Calapai.
Your habits, environment, and other health conditions might also be responsible for your sore throat. For example, the dry winter air can irritate your throat. Smoking and allergies can also cause throat pain.
With so many different potential causes—only some of which will go away on their own—it’s important to get expert advice on exactly what’s responsible for your sore throat and how to cure it.
“As soon as you have a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or swollen glands, call your doctor and tell him or her what you’re experiencing so they can tell you what to do,” says Calapai. He says the idea is to figure out exactly what’s responsible for your sore throat so the doctor can advise and—if needed—treat you accordingly.
Your Pantry To The Rescue: Natural Sore Throat Remedies
So you’ve booked your doctor’s next available appointment and you’re waiting for a diagnosis. But in the meantime, you’re still in a lot of discomfort. Where should you start looking for sore throat remedies?
The pantry is a good first stop for people seeking to soothe their throat pain. And the good news is that unlike other types of home remedies, many natural treatments for sore throats actually work. You may start to experience relief the moment you try some of these natural options. And even if they aren’t as effective as you’d hoped, you’re unlikely to suffer from any side effects.
“Most of the natural sore throat remedies are without risk; they’re generally safe,” says Calapai.
Keep in mind, though, that whether you try natural or medical sore throat remedies, they will typically only mask the pain—not cure it. For long-term relief, you may need to make changes to your environment or habits or obtain a prescription from a doctor.
Here are some natural sore throat remedies that might reduce your throat pain:
Gargle with salt water.
Add half a teaspoon of table salt to an 8-ounce glass of very warm water and stir to dissolve. Then, gargle it for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat every hour, taking care to swish it around your mouth thoroughly. As a chemically basic solution, this sore throat remedy will help calm inflammation in the back of your throat by creating a less acidic environment. It doesn’t taste great, but it works.
Sip hot soup.
If there’s ever a time to slurp chicken noodle soup, it’s when you’ve got throat pain. The hot broth will numb the back of your throat, creating a soothing sensation. A good nutrient-packed soup will help boost your immune system, giving it an extra edge in the fight against whatever’s causing your sore throat.
Drink turmeric tea.
When it comes to sore throat remedies, might just be the tastiest option. Heat a cup of water to almost boiling, then mix in ¼ teaspoon each of ground turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger, along with half a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Allow it to steep for 10 minutes, then sip once it’s dropped to a drinkable temperature.
Suck on ice chips.
Temperatures both high and low can reduce the pain in your throat. Just like hot beverages can provide relief, so can cold things like ice chips. The sucking motion stimulates the production of saliva, which can moisten your throat if it’s feeling dry and scratchy. The coolness of the ice chips will also provide immediate relief from the burning sensation associated with sore throats. And if you decide to swap out your ice chips for some popsicles, we won’t judge.
Use a humidifier.
Do you have a humidifier sitting around in your basement? Time to dust it off and put it back to work. The winter air is known to in your nose and throat, which may be causing your throat pain. A humidifier will help replenish the moisture in the air and make it a little less painful to breathe. Running a humidifier can be especially helpful at night when you’re sleeping and can’t reach for a soothing beverage.
Address your sore throat with modern medicine.
When natural sore throat remedies don’t do the trick, the pharmacy has plenty of options to help provide pain relief. It’s always best to consult your doctor about any medication before you start taking it, but here are some sore throat remedies you can pick up without a prescription.
Spray the pain away.
“Using spray on the back of your throat can take the pain levels down,” says Calapai. The active ingredient, phenol, acts as an oral anesthetic. Adults can apply it to back of the throat, let it sit for 15 seconds, then spit it out, and repeat every two hours (or as frequently as your doctor recommends). Choose from flavors like cherry, citrus, and menthol.
Acid reflux can cause a nasty feeling in the back of your throat. If you think that’s the cause of your sore throat, take an antacid. While generally not considered appropriate for long-term use, antacids (like Tums) can reduce the throat pain associated with acid reflux while you work with your doctor to implement a more permanent solution.
Better known by its brand name, Tylenol, acetaminophen is actually more effective than ibuprofen (a.k.a. Advil) at relieving the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections according to a study published in the . Acetaminophen can also help relieve other symptoms you might have, like muscle aches, headaches, and fever. Adults can take two 325-milligram tablets every four to six hours (and up to 10 tablets in 24 hours) for up to 10 days.
Suck on throat lozenges.
Head to the cold and flu aisle of your local pharmacy and you’ll be spoiled with an impressive array of of throat lozenges. A by U.S. New & World Report found that was the throat lozenge brand most recommended by pharmacists. Cepacol lozenges rely on benzocaine and menthol to provide oral pain relief. Lozenges from Chloraseptic, Halls, and Ricola also ranked highly by pharmacists.
Should you see a doctor?
Sore throats can sometimes run their course on their own over a couple of days, meaning you might get to cancel your doctor’s appointment. That said, they can also be a sign of something more serious that will only get worse if left ignored.
“It always makes sense to see a doctor to get a better handle on what you’re dealing with,” says Calapai. “You might have something more significant that you don’t know about, but a doctor can find out.”
Even on its own, a sore throat can be a legitimate reason to make an appointment with your physician. But Calapai says that if you also have discolored phlegm or mucus, a fever, chills, aches, difficulty swallowing or breathing, or swollen glands, that’s all the more reason to call your doctor right away. Infections don’t always get better on their own and it’s wise to play it safe and seek early intervention rather than waiting it out and potentially ending up with a more serious medical issue.
“A sore throat has to be evaluated. Get ready to call the doctor and ask what they think,” says Calapai.
Try to prevent it.
What’s the best way to treat throat pain? Avoiding a sore throat to begin with! There are many ways you can help reduce your risk of getting an infection that causes a sore throat.
“It’s a really good idea to wash your hands relatively frequently, especially when you’ve been in contact with other people who might be sick,” says Calapai.
A quick swish under running water isn’t good enough. Make sure you’re following , which means using soap and hot water and scrubbing for 20 seconds. In a pinch? Use an alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer to kill germs on the go. And try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth if your hands aren’t clean.
“Take your vitamins to keep your immune system strong,” says Calapai.
During cold and flu season, your body might be fighting off tons of infections. Take a multivitamin and eat nutrient-dense foods to give your immune system the fuel it needs to win the battle against viruses and bacteria.
Finally, avoid contact with other people who might be sick. The infections that cause sore throats are often spread through close contact with others. And if you’re the one who’s sick, stay home! It’s better to miss a couple days of work and a few social events than to give everyone around you a nasty sore throat—or something worse.