The Medical Minute: Five Home Remedies Can Soothe Your Sore Throat

| December 10, 2023


HERSHEY, Pa. — You’ve stockpiled your boxes of tissues, painkillers, antihistamines, nasal spray, and chicken noodle soup. But what do you do about your sore throat?

When you catch a cold or something worse, the feeling that someone rubbed the inner walls of your windpipe with sandpaper can make even the simple act of swallowing painful.

The good news, said Dr. Heidi Hutchison, a family practice physician at Penn State Health Medical Group – East Pennsboro, is some home remedies actually work just as well to soothe your sore throat as sugary cough drops and drugs. Below, she shares five.

But first, two caveats. “These aren’t quick fixes for an illness,” she said.

The suggestions below aren’t a cure for something like strep throat, for example. You should talk with a doctor about what you can do if you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, and you’ll likely take a prescribed medication. The tips you’ll find in this story are meant to soothe a nagging symptom.

And secondly, “if somebody has a very significant sore throat, or they feel like their throat is closing, they should go right to the ER,” Hutchison said.

If you have a run-of-the-mill, irritating sore throat that doesn’t need medical attention, Hutchison suggests five tried-and-true remedies.

Honey

Honey is a natural anti-inflammatory, Hutchison said. In some countries — Croatia, for example — it’s used as medicine, and not for its sweetness.

“It’s not like ibuprofen,” she said, but it shares some of its properties. Honey is safe for most people one year of age and up, and it can do wonders for a sore throat.

After all, most of the time inflammation is what’s causing your throat to hurt, Hutchison said. Infectious bacteria have set up shop in the back of your throat. Your body is reacting to try to remove it ― and it hurts.

Tea

Certain kinds of teas also have anti-inflammatory properties. Chamomile, for example, Hutchison said. Also, some people find the warmth of hot tea is the very thing their throat needs to feel better.

Try combining it with option 1: honey.

Cold treats

Others find the warmth of a hot drink is the exact opposite of what they want to soothe a sore throat. These folks are looking to bring the temperature down.

Hutchison suggests popsicles. Ice cream can work, as well.

Salt water cocktail

Hutchison suggests this recipe from the National Institutes of Health.

  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Combine the ingredients in a glass and stir. Gargle and spit it out. Repeat three to four times a day.

It’s not going to win a prize for the most delicious beverage, but the solution can help cleanse the throat of bacteria.

“Studies support that it can help,” Hutchison said.

Peppermint

It’s delicious, it’s refreshing and some studies show it has anti-inflammatory properties, Hutchison said. However, use it with caution. Peppermint sounds pretty benign, but the herb has been known to cause increases in blood pressure, she said.

Other methods

Some people swear by chewing on a clove of garlic as a sore throat treatment. In addition to warding off vampires, the root vegetable is believed to have antibiotic properties that might help with infections.

Others say cayenne pepper and hot sauce help. Maybe ingesting the tear-inducing ingredient in Buffalo wing sauce isn’t top of mind when you’re looking to take the burn out of your throat, but the pepper contains capsaicin, which according to the National Institutes of Health might have some analgesic properties.

And of course, Hutchison said, there’s always good old chicken noodle soup.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians, and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.


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