8 Natural Remedies for a Sore Throat

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8 Remedies for a Sore Throat

Sore throat remedies and natural treatments
Tea, gargles, and natural throat lozenges may help to soothe a sore throat. Cathy Wong

A sore throat can be annoying and uncomfortable and can sometimes signal an oncoming cold. Although most sore throats will clear up in a couple of days, here are easy, natural remedies that may help to temporarily soothe the pain.

Tip: While home remedies may help with some types of sore throat, it's important to note that medical treatment may be needed. Be sure to consult your doctor if your sore throat is very painful, lasts more than a few days, or if you have other symptoms. Certain conditions and symptoms (such as difficulty breathing) require emergency care.

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Gargle With Warm Salt Water for a Sore Throat

salt water gargle
Salt water gargle for a sore throat. Cathy Wong

One of the oldest home remedies for a sore throat, gargling with warm salt water may help to relieve discomfort, break down mucus, and reduce swelling. 

Typically, 1/2 teaspoon of salt is dissolved into one cup of warm water. The salt water solution should be spit out after gargling and should not be swallowed or reused. Gargling once an hour is sometimes recommended for a sore throat.

Gargling regularly, even with plain water, may help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections, according to a study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. People who gargled three times a day with water had fewer upper respiratory tract infections compared to a control group. 

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Warm Lemon Drink for a Sore Throat

Lemon, cayenne, and honey.
Lemon, cayenne, and honey. Cathy Wong

Chances are, you've heard of this lemon drink before, or some variation of it. It involves mixing the following ingredients into a cup of warm water:

  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 very small sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of honey

Apple cider vinegar may be used instead of the lemon juice. In addition, 1/4 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger may also be added. 

Related: The Benefits of Ginger

The benefits of this folk remedy haven't been studied (some say that capsaicin, a compound in cayenne, blocks nerves from sending pain signals and the acid of the lemon or apple cider vinegar creates a hostile environment for germs). Still, it's a good way to get warm fluids to soothe a sore throat.

Related:

It's important not to overdo it on the cayenne or the apple cider vinegar and to only use it sparingly and mixed with liquids -- too much of either can worsen the pain and can cause burns or irritation in the mouth and throat. 

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A Cup of Tea to Ease a Sore Throat

black tea for a sore throat
Black tea for a sore throat. Cathy Wong

A warm cup of black tea may help to provide relief from a sore throat. Black tea (Camelia sinensis) contains compounds called tannins, which are astringent and may help to shrink swollen tissue. Honey or lemon can be added.

Related: The Health Benefits of Black Tea

Another tea remedy is to make the black tea double-strength and gargle with it several times a day.

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Honey for a Sore Throat and Cough

honey
Honey for a sore throat and cough. Charles Schiller/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

A time-honored (and delicious) remedy, honey may help to suppress cough and ease a sore throat. It appears to coat the throat, temporarily relieving throat irritation that can trigger coughing.

Typically, two teaspoons of honey is recommended at bedtime to ease nighttime coughing and sore throat and improve the quality of sleep. A study published in the Pediatrics found that people who received honey before bed coughed less frequently, less severely, and were less likely to lose sleep due to coughing than those who didn't receive honey. 

You can also add one teaspoon of honey to beverages or have one teaspoon of it during the day.

Also read about Honey For Coughs and 3 Remedies Using Honey.

Honey should never be given to a child younger than one year old due to the risk of botulism. 

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Sage to Ease a Sore Throat

Sage tea
Sage tea. Cathy Wong

Used in Europe as a herbal remedy for a variety of throat conditions, the herb sage (Salvia officinalis) has a number of compounds, such as cineole, borneol, camphor, and thujone, and astringent properties that may help to ease a sore throat and reduce swelling and inflammation.

Herbalists sometimes suggest a tea or gargle which is made by steeping 1 teaspoon of dried sage or 1 tablespoon of fresh sage leaves in 1 cup of boiling water, covering for 10 to 15 minutes, and then straining out the leaves. Honey and lemon can be added, if desired. 

One study found that a throat spray containing sage extract reduced the severity of a sore throat over a two-hour period compared to a placebo in people with sore throat caused by a viral infection. Another study found that a sage and echinacea spray every 2 hours (for a maximum of 10 times per day for five days) improved sore throat symptoms as a effectively as a medicated spray. Side effects included a mild burning sensation and throat dryness.

Learn more about sage tea and echinacea.

Although it may provide some relief in the short-term, the safety of regular or long-term use of sage supplements isn't known.  Pregnant or nursing women should avoid sage supplements.

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Slippery Elm to Soothe a Sore Throat

slippery elm lozenges
Slippery elm lozenges for a sore throat. Cathy Wong

Native to North America, slippery elm is an herb that has long been used in herbal medicine to soothe a sore throat and dry cough.

When mixed with water, the inner bark of the slippery elm tree forms a thick gel (mucilage) that coats and soothes the throat.  Herbalists typically recommend pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1/2 teaspoon of powdered bark. Stir, allow it to steep, and then gargle once it has cooled.

Related: Natural Remedies for Laryngitis

Slippery is also found in throat lozenges (pictured) and is a key ingredient, along with the herbs licorice and marshmallow, in the herbal tea Throat Coat®.

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Licorice to Soothe a Sore Throat

the herb licorice root
Licorice root may help to ease a sore throat. Neil Fletcher & Matthew Ward/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for sore throat. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), licorice root is sometimes used as a remedy for stomach ulcers, allergies, canker sores and viral infections. 

A study in Anesthesia & Analgesia examined the use of a licorice root gargle to prevent sore throat. Five minutes before general anesthesia, patients either gargled with a diluted licorice root solution or plain water. The patients who gargled with the licorice root solution were less likely to have a sore throat after surgery and experienced less post-operative coughing than other patients.

Another study examined Throat Coat®, a herbal tea containing licorice. Participants in the study took 5-8 ounces of the tea or a placebo four to six times a day. Compared to the placebo, the intensity of throat pain when swallowing was significantly reduced by Throat Coat®. 

Licorice is a common ingredient in herbal teas, lozenges, and throat drops for a sore throat. It has a naturally sweet taste.

Licorice in large amounts may lead to high blood pressure, salt and water retention, low potassium levels, and may affect levels of the hormone cortisol. It should not be combined with diuretics, corticosteroids, or other medications that reduce potassium levels in the body. People with heart disease or high blood pressure should use avoid licorice. Pregnant women should not take licorice.

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Marshmallow for a Sore Throat

Marshmallow plant
The root of the marshmallow plant is a folk remedy for sore throats. Steve Gorton/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Marshmallow, an herb that grows in North America and Europe, has been used for centuries as a home remedy for a sore throat. Like slippery elm, marshmallow contains mucilage, which is thought to soothe the mucus membranes in the throat.

Although the spongy marshmallows we use today in desserts were once made using marshmallow root, these candy confections commonly found in the grocery store no longer contain the herb. So unfortunately, eating s'mores and rice crispy treats won't help a sore throat.

Herbalists recommend marshmallow root tea as a remedy for sore throats. It is usually made by adding one tablespoon of the dried root to a cup (8 ounces) of boiling water and steeping it, covered, for 30 to 90 minutes before straining. Herbalists usually suggest up to three cups a day for a sore throat.

Consult a doctor before taking marshmallow if you have diabetes, as it may make your blood sugar too low especially when combined with diabetes medication. Marshmallow may also slow the absorption of other drugs taken at the same time. Marshmallow should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women.

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Additional Tips

  • Prevent dehydration by drinking liquids. Some people may find relief from drinking warm liquids while prefer cold liquids or eating popsicles or ice pops.
  • Avoid hot liquids, which may aggravate throat irritation. Stick to warm liquids.
  • A little may help, but too much may hurt.  Certain substances used commonly in sore throat remedies, such as apple cider vinegar and cayenne, may damage the throat and worsen a sore throat if used in excessive amounts. Consult a qualified practitioner about the amount suitable for your symptoms.
  • Adjust your thermostat. For some people, a warmer room may lead to dryness, which can aggravate a dry, irritated throat. 
  • A humidifier may help to add moisture to the air. Just be sure to monitor the humidity so it doesn't become too humid.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Keep in mind that although many of these home remedies have been used for generations, there is still a lack of research on them. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. Self-treating a health condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Bottom Line

While some remedies may help to provide relief, if you are experiencing other symptoms (such as fever, earache, blood or pus in the saliva or phlegm, drooling, rash, swollen lymph nodes, nausea or vomiting, heartburn, prolonged or worsening cough, or body pain) or if you're sore throat is very painful or lasts longer than a few days, be sure to consult your primary care provider. Epiglottitis, wheezing, or difficulty breathing require emergency medical care. A sore throat may also be due to strep throat, a condition that requires antibiotic treatment in order to prevent serious complications.

Sources:

Cohen HA, Rozen J, Kristal H, et al. Effect of honey on nocturnal cough and sleep quality: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Pediatrics. 2012 Sep;130(3):465-71. 

Satomura K, Kitamura T, Kawamura T, Shimbo T, Watanabe M, Kamei M, Takano Y, Tamakoshi A; Great Cold Investigators-I. Prevention of upper respiratory tract infections by gargling: a randomized trial. Am J Prev Med. 2005 Nov;29(4):302-7.

Shadkam MN, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Mozayan MR. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jul;16(7):787-93. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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