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It’s great when your body is working hard to fight off an infection, but sometimes the symptoms that come with it are the worst. Case in point: a sore throat. Talking becomes a chore (when all you want to do is complain about how crummy you feel), eating and drinking are painful, and you’re reminded of your illness every few minutes when you swallow.
This particular symptom is the worst, so it’s good to have a few stand-by home remedies on hand so you can soothe the burn early and regularly. When your symptoms are more mild, these are the home treatments you can count on.
If your sore throat feels brutally painful and comes with a cough, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and gunky tonsils, it may be strep. “We worry about strep throat because an unusual complication is rheumatic fever,” explains Keith Roach, M.D., associate professor in clinical medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Even though it doesn’t happen often, rheumatic fever can cause permanent damage to the heart, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Not an illness you want to take your chances on. If you have two or more of those symptoms, skip the home remedies and check in with a doctor.
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This sticky stuff is good for more than sweetening your tea. If coughing is making your throat raw, honey could be just the thing you need. In 2007, 100 children with coughs were given cough medicine, honey, and a placebo — and honey came out on top. The results were published in Archives of Pediatric Medicine, and even the Mayo Clinic says it’s a worthwhile cough-stopping technique.
It can also be helpful for sore throats because, well, it’s sticky, says Dr. Roach. Coating the throat helps reduce pain. “Honey is super viscous and will stay there and stick,” he explains.
With a sore throat, what you’re really aiming for is to reduce the amount of pain your body is picking up. Lucky for you, there are plenty of throat lozenges that effectively numb the throat, Dr. Roach says.
They don’t work for everyone, but they’re definitely worth trying. A double-blind, placebo-controlled 2012 study of 190 people published in the Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences found that both hexylresorcinol lozenges (think brands like Strepsils) were most effective.
3 Gargling salt water
When you’re having trouble swallowing from a sore throat, gargling salt water can help in two ways, Dr. Roach says. One, it can clear out the gunk that might be causing irritation, like mucus and bacteria or viruses. But more importantly, it helps reduce swelling because salt tends to pull fluid out of the soft tissues of the throat.
Even just plain-old water gargling seems to help — a study of 387 Japanese people published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that in addition to reducing sore throat and other cold symptoms, it also reduced how often people got upper respiratory tract infections. Magic!
4 Neti pot
If your sore throat is linked to sinus irritation or infection, then a neti pot — a tea pot full of salt water that you pour through one nostril until it comes out the other — can help clear your nasal passages and get you feeling better, Dr. Roach says. “You’ll get rid of the infected stuff, the pus and the snot that’s running down there, and you’ll get some relief for a while,” he explains. A study of 871 patients published in Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2016 suggested that so-called “nasal irrigation” did seem to alleviate symptoms.
You’ll likely need to use the pot more than once, and make sure you’re using distilled or cooled boiled water to prevent introducing another nasty infection.
5 Chicken soup
It’s not just an old wives tale, and it’s not just because drinking something warm is soothing. One study, published in Chest in 2000, showed that chicken soup slowed white blood cell movement, which the researchers suggested led to a decrease in cold symptoms.
“The data on chicken soup is actually pretty solid,” Dr. Roach says. “It will reduce the amount of virus that is there more than just plain hot water.” So yes, permission definitely granted for requesting homemade soul soup.
If your throat is feeling scratchy and it’s dry outside, adding some humidity to the air via a humidifier might help reduce your symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with asthma or allergies may get even more benefit. But it’ll take some maintenance, Dr. Roach says: You’ve got to keep the humidifier super clean, or you could be throwing mold spores into the air, which could make your sore throat even worse. To prevent mold buildup, your best bet is to rinse the humidifier in diluted bleach after you’ve cleaned it, he adds.
Colleen Stinchcombe Freelance Health Writer Colleen is a health and travel writer in Seattle, Washington.
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