A sore throat is among the most painful and irritating of all day to day illnesses many of us can catch. When you have a sore throat it can be extremely distressing, and your ability to eat, drink, talk, work and rest can be severely disrupted. Left alone, or poorly treated, a sore throat can become a serious illness and you can do damage to your vocal chords, the lining of your throat, and even to your chest. If you have a notably painful throat, you absolutely must do all you can to fight it off and get your throat functions back to normal. This article will help you do that.
A sore throat is one of those terms that can be tricky to pin down. Generally speaking, it is the umbrella term we use for occasions when the throat is in a poor state and in pain. This might be due to a form of roughness in the larynx. Or you may feel a scratching sensation and an itchiness that you can’t ever quite swallow away.
The pain can also take the form of a burning sensation, and the truth is your temperature will likely be higher than normal all over your body, and certainly you may find yourself with a small fever. (Check elsewhere on the site for advice on How To Get Rid Of A Fever.)
In fact, if the throat is a severe infection, you may find you have quite a significant fever, or swollen glands around the neck. You will almost certainly also have either a reduction in vocal capacity or a loss of voice.
If you investigate your throat visually, you may also see that it is marked with white dots, sometimes really quite large ones, and that the surface of your throat is rippled with lumps These can cause really very significant issues with swallowing.
These symptoms mean you are suffering from an infection, either bacterial or viral. It may be the cold or the flu, or even covid. If you think it is covid, you should try to take a covid test if that is possible. It may also be due to your environment – perhaps it is too cold, too tropical, or too polluted. Many sore throats are due to traffic and intense fumes.
And the final broad causal area could be allergies. Many people develop a sore throat in the summer, when pollen counts are high. Even though we might associate a sore throat with winter colds, they can strike at all times of the year.
There are, fortunately, many things you can do to alleviate a sore throat.
- Taking OTC painkillers is the primary way most people treat their ailments
- Drinking warm, but not over-hot, fluids, such as warm honey and lemon drinks
- Gargling with salt water
- Ibuprofen and paracetamol and acetaminophen can all help as OTC meds in reducing the inflammation or in alleviating immediate pain
- Sometimes a topical numbing agent can also be prescribed or recommended, usually after a doctor’s examination
- Sucking on a medicated lozenge at regular intervals is a good help to many sufferers
- Ensuring you remain well-wrapped up outdoors, with a scarf or bandana to cover the mouth in any public or very chilly areas. You really want to avoid your throat being subjected to extremes of cold.
Adequate rest helps
It can be difficult, but you really do need to rest up when unwell. Symptoms will worsen or lengthen if you are worn out and run down.
But how much rest is enough?
This is a question everyone wonders about, and it can obviously depend on the person and on the severity of the illness. That said, a rule of thumb for most people is somewhere around 7-9 hours of sleep a day. If you are younger, however, and are still growing, you may even need more than that, and some teenagers will need around 10 hours of sleep, even if they are not unwell.
When you are unwell, you actually need more rest than normal, but the body makes that hard, by keeping you in pain as you breathe or swallow. So you must do all you can to avoid additional interruptions to your night’s sleep. Try to drink a bit less than normal as you near bedtime, though keep your body topped up with good sips of honey, or lemon drinks, or specialist teas to help you get to sleep as easily as possible.
Many people find that if they can get a good night’s sleep early into their illness it really does truncate the illness and lessen the pain, so you must absolutely prioritize rest. It will really help.
Exercise throat care
Generally, make less noise! When you are unwell with a sore throat, you must do all you can to limit the use of your voice unnecessarily.
Talking less is actually really important. The vocal chords and the larynx need to rest and allow the healing to take place. If you talk excessively, you irritate them and slow down their working to heal themselves. Vocal chords are highly sensitive and are susceptible to stress and pressure even in a normal healthy state. If you stress them when they are already weakened by illness, you do them damage, and may even set back your recovery by a week or so.
Definitely avoid trying to shout or sing or call out. Sudden noises like that are really unhelpful and will prolong your pain and infection.
It is also wise to avoid noisy environments as much as possible. Pubs, clubs, bars or even noisy shop floors are all to be avoided. You may need to curtail your social life, and if you normally play sport, you are best to limit that for a few days until you are on the mend. Stay away from crowds.
Ensure good fluid intake
It is hard to overstate how much benefit can come from being well hydrated when you are suffering from a sore throat. You really need to keep your body functioning and your throat moist.
Water, herbal teas and warm soups are all good choices to make. Mild heat is good for a sore throat, as it comforts the muscles and helps to relax them, making swallowing gradually easier.
This activity also soothes any irritation and if you drink the right fluids you can also help to reduce inflammation.
This is because fluid acts as a flushing mechanism, and helps the throat flush out the bacteria and residue that can gather on a throat. If left undisturbed, the bacteria will just lie there, so when you drink you are really fighting back against infection.
What drinks work well
The following drinks are ones to have up your sleeve as you tackle a sore throat.
- Herbal teas, such as camomile, lavender, rosehip, pomegranate
- Any drink that has lemon and ginger in a mild dose will help fight infection
- All honey drinks are great to use. You can add a spoonful of honey to any drink you like and it will do your throat good. If you can use Manuka honey, great. But it does not need to be Manuka. All honeys have healing qualities. They are a wonder-food!
- Warm light broths can be great, as they are easy to swallow and make a great way to get a bit of vegetable nutrition too. Miso soup, for example, can be an excellent choice
- Many also swear by whisky with a touch of honey and warm water. This combination is often excellent at bedtime, as it warms the throat, and the alcohol acts both to sterilize the throat and also make you sleepy. Try it with even just a small amount of whisky and you will feel the effects.
Avoid caffeine, wines, beers and any fizz
These drinks may be our daily ones, but when you have a sore throat, avoid them. Caffeine and alcohol are drying agents and do little to help you when you are unwell. They will dehydrate your throat, just when you need it to be moist. This is to be avoided.
Though it may be tempting to choose a drink that you like, try to exercise self-discipline and respect your throat’s needs. If you do feel the need for a comfort drink, one option is to have some warm cocoa drink, ideally made from as much dark chocolate as possible, since dark chocolate is higher in antioxidants and has some very helpful polyphenols that help fight infection – and control your blood pressure, according to some significant studies.
Hot showers help
Hot showers can help by streaming your air as you shower and actually softening your throat and moistening it to release the bacteria that are perhaps at the root of the problem. The steam that is created may help to ease congestion and will certainly assist you in expelling the nasal congestion that is likely playing a part in your pain. Warm waters also help to relax muscles in your throat and provide temporary relief.
If you have access to a steam room, that too may assist. Remember, however, that public steam rooms can be filled with other people who may also be unwell, so take care to try to use the facility when it is quiet. Otherwise, you may end up even less well than when you entered. Remember, when the body is low or weakened, it becomes more susceptible to other infections, so if you have doubts about the steam room at your gym, for example, perhaps just steam your head at home.
Use a humidifier or vaporizer
Humidifiers and vaporizers work to add moisture to the air, loosening mucus and reducing irritation in the throat. In addition, if it’s intemperate and notably cold and dry outside, a humidifier or vaporizer can help make the surrounding indoor environment more comfortable.
Prepare salt water solution
Salt’s antiseptic properties make it ideal for treating a sore throat. It works to help reduce swelling and inflammation in the throat, which can help reduce the pain. It is also a natural way of healing and for many people who prefer natural cures it is the first port of call.
That said everyone should try this, even if on other medication, as it will do no harm and will probably do notable good. You will help kill bacteria every time you gargle.
Don’t short-change your throat
If you gargle, you need to do this more than just a few seconds once a day. Ideally, try to manage 6 to 8 gargles of about five seconds each, one after the other, and do this twice or three times a day.
The repeated attention you are paying to your throat will ensure that the salt continues to have a progressively positive effect on your illness and on the inflammation and irritation.
Lozenges or ‘medicated sweets’ are good too
For many, sucking an antiseptic lozenge is the first thing we think of. There are huge numbers of well known brand names out there, and they are a good thing to look at if you are suffering from a sore throat.
You need to make sure to chat to your pharmacist, however, as some are more focused than others on different ailments, and you may end up taking one that only has a small active ingredient suited to you. In addition, some meds cause drowsiness, and others don’t, so you really need to check that out, depending on your work or personal circumstances.
You also need to be careful that some of these lozenges do not contain paracetamol, which is dangerous if taken in too high a dose. Be aware! Your lozenge may contain paracetamol in a dose that means you should not then take additional paracetamol tablets at all.
The temptation can be to buy everything, given how tempting the variety of options is and how desperate you feel when you’re unwell.
Resist this, however. Partly because you will waste money, but also because not all meds go together or work well. Some combinations have side effects, so make sure to check that what you are buying is recommended by the pharmacist. You do not want to be made more unwell, after all, and you really must make sure not to overdose on paracetamol.
You’ll find multiple varieties of throat sprays too. They often come in different flavors and levels of relief. Some brands even offer a combination of sprays and lozenges.
As with tablets, read the labels carefully and take advice. It can be all too easy to spray something into the throat only to find that you have overdone it. Follow directions very carefully.
Usually, lozenges or sprays are designed to offer temporary relief at any one point, but they will also work over a couple of days to lessen the symptoms too, if you get the dose and ingredients right. And, ideally, couple their use to other treatments, like honey drinks, rest, and gargling.
Syrups and Liquids
There is a huge variety of cough or sore throat mixtures out there that you can take. Some are designed to alleviate throat pain, others prioritize a cough. Make sure you look carefully to check that you get the one that is right for you.
Many of them contain the same active ingredients as a lozenge, so, again, be careful not to double-medicate or take too much of the wrong active ingredient. Again, if taking a throat syrup, check if it contains paracetamol. Many do, and you therefore need to modify any other doses of paracetamol tablets you take.
These cough or throat syrups can be delicious! This needs care. They can be tempting to take in larger than the usual 5ml or 10ml recommended dose. Be very careful not to ‘drink’ them or slug them down casually. Measure your dose well and stick to what is recommended.
Follow package directions for use
This may seem like obvious advice, but actually because these medicines are so easy to take, sometimes you can be tempted to have an extra spray, or take a few extra lozenges or medicated sweets than is ideal, especially because the lozenges are so nicely flavored. Do resist that temptation! You really only need to take the recommended dose and it could be counterproductive to do otherwise.
Tylenol or Ibuprofen or Paracetamol
OTC (over-the-counter) pain relief
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen may be an option, but you absolutely need to check with a pharmacist or doctor which is best. Some can, for example, affect your stomach and should be taken on a full stomach, or else you may feel nauseous.
Some are stronger than others and/or come in different doses. Ibuprofen, for example, can be in varying strengths of milligram doses. You need to check – not all tablets are the same, and in different countries the usual dose per tablet can be different from in other countries’ usual single tablet dose. Really have a good look at the packet. Do not just take your usual ‘two tablets’, for example, in case you have picked up a different packet from normal and are taking too large a dose. Acetaminophen is another painkiller tablet, but, be aware, by itself it will not reduce inflammation.
Decongestants can also be a great help if the throat infection is linking up with your sinuses. This happens frequently, so you will likely find you do indeed need to attend to some form of decongestant tablet or solution. Menthol and eucalyptus oils are often excellent oils to look out for as ingredients, as they are terrific as decongestants and also pleasing to smell.
Follow the instructions
Most over-the-counter medications should be taken every four to six hours while symptoms last. Some may need to be taken with food, while others are best taken on an empty stomach. Additionally, it’s best to drink plenty of fluids when taking medications.
The reality is that depending on the particular meds you have selected as best, you need to be careful to ensure that you design your routines to maximize the efficacy of each form of treatment.
Use honey as cough suppressant
Honey is worth a section to itself as it really is important. The antiviral and antibacterial properties of honey make it a great natural remedy for soothing your throat. The sweetness also helps to coat your throat and break down the build up of mucus.
There is no set maximum dose for honey, so you can generally add it to different foods and drinks safely. Certainly, regular sipping on a warm honey drink will do no harm and a lot of good.
For many, a teaspoon is enough to add flavor to a drink. Lemon, apple cider vinegar, and a teaspoon or two of honey, for example, makes a great drink. It also works well in whisky at nighttime to rest you and relax you into sleep. In addition, simply letting a spoonful of honey dissolve in the throat is another way of coating the throat and reaching the pain directly.
It is also the best natural sweetener there is, so add it to your teas too.
Do just be careful to brush your teeth well, as being high in sugar it can, over time, like all sugars, upset the teeth. That said, your teeth will be fine for the few days you may be ingesting more honey than normal as you fight your sore throat, so do not worry unduly about this.
Research traditional herbal remedies
In recent years, we have become much more aware of herbal approaches than in the past.
Many stores nowadays stock echinacea in various forms. Whether as tablets, drops, a liquid solution, or as capsules flavored with fruits that dissolve into a fruity drink.
Echinacea is often thought to be an excellent remedy to take at the start of an illness. Many absolutely swear by it. Taken with other remedies it can be an excellent example of complementary medicine. In Chinese, Indian and eastern cultures it has been used for centuries.
We would recommend researching echinacea and other remedies. The following are worth looking into and asking your pharmacist about.
- Licorice root
- Marshmallow root
- Slippery elm
These ingredients can then be used in herbal teas or in other drinks to assist in healing and in lessening pain. They also help to restore your immune system and your body’s overall defenses.
Speak with your doctor
If you find your sore throat persists, then you really do need to speak to a doctor. Most sore throats will disappear if treated in line with the above approaches, so if you have an ailment that does not lessen in severity or which lasts a week or more without seeming to be on the mend, seek medical advice.