drinking tea

Updated Sept. 25, 2020

You may be familiar with the signs — a scratchy feeling in the back of your throat or trouble swallowing. Those are some of the most common symptoms associated with sore throats, a common health complaint. Sore throats can be very painful and often are the first sign of a cold, the flu, or another illness. And many different things can cause them: viruses, bacteria, allergies, or even smoke.

Although sore throats can be painful, they are treatable. And even some of Grandma’s trusted home remedies for sore throat relief have real science behind them.

Whenever it hurts to swallow, we’re tempted to call the family doctor for a prescription. But the American Medical Association says that viruses are the cause of the majority of sore throats, making antibiotics ineffective.

So, do what Grandma did: Instead of reaching into the medicine cabinet, head to your kitchen for natural, quick relief. You’d be surprised at just how many effective home remedies are already hiding in your pantry or refrigerator.

1. Saltwater gargle

Because salt kills bacteria, a saltwater gargle is a favorite natural remedy. Just mix a teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of warm water (the warmest you can tolerate), gargle for 30 seconds, then spit it out.

2. Baking soda

The antibacterial qualities of baking soda can have a health benefit, too. Mix baking soda with warm water and gargle for 30 seconds before spitting. You can add salt, too.

3. Cayenne pepper

For a real kick, try gargling with cayenne pepper, which breaks up and moves the mucus in your throat. Add a healthy pinch of cayenne pepper to warm water and mix well. Don’t swallow, though, to avoid upsetting your stomach.

4. Breathe steam to ease sore throat

Steam can open a stuffy nose and reduce mucus drainage into your throat.

Create your own “personal steamer” by pouring very hot (not boiling) water into a bowl. You can even add some aromatic herbs like oregano, crystallized ginger, or lavender from your spice rack.

Cover your head with a towel and lean in over the water, breathing deeply. You can also reap similar benefits by breathing in the steam while taking a long, hot shower.

5. Relieve your throat with hot, herbal tea

The antioxidants found in herbal tea — with the added antibacterial properties of honey — help promote good health while delivering soothing relief to your sore throat.

NOTE: Honey should never be given to children under 1 year of age.

And a big bowl of chicken noodle soup really does much more than warm you up. Scientists have found that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that help ease infections and loosen mucus. And, when swallowing is painful, soup is an important source of nutrition and hydration — both of which are key to faster healing.

6. Peppermint

Peppermint has antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant qualities that make it a remedy for illnesses of the mouth and throat. It’s the source of menthol, a primary ingredient in cough drops and other medicines. Try drinking peppermint tea, or using peppermint oil in topical, spray, or capsule form.

7. Soothe your throat with something cool

While savoring your favorite Popsicle® flavor may not have direct medicinal benefits, there’s no denying its soothing effect on a sore throat. Ice chips, ice cream, and frozen fruit also help to reduce inflammation and provide temporary sore throat relief.

8. Drink apple cider vinegar

Another option is to mix one part apple cider vinegar to two parts water. The natural acids in the vinegar help to kill the bacteria that lurk in your throat.

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When to See Your Doctor

A scratchy or irritated sore throat usually isn’t cause for alarm. Most sore throats caused by colds or the flu go away in 10 days or fewer.

However, you should see a doctor if any of the following apply to you:

  • Severe sore throat pain lasting more than a few days
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • White spots or pus in the back of the throat, or red and swollen tonsils
  • A red rash that feels like sandpaper
  • Swollen, tender glands in the neck
  • Fever of 101 degrees or higher
  • Have a sore throat and have been around someone recently diagnosed with strep throat

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. However, bacteria can cause strep throat, which can bring on a sudden, severe sore throat.

While strep shares common symptoms with other sore throats, there are differences. Strep throat usually lasts longer. It doesn’t usually come with a cough, as many sore throats do. You also may develop a fever, vomiting, lack of appetite, and red tonsils or white spots in the back of your throat. A swab test by your doctor can confirm whether you have strep.

Sore Throat Prevention

A sore throat is one of the most common illnesses, especially during cold and flu season. However, there are ways you can try to prevent one:

  • Wash your hands: Properly and frequently washing your hands is one of the best prevention methods for many illnesses. Washing your hands kills germs that can cause many different diseases. Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid people who are sick: Stay out of close contact with people who have sore throats, colds, or other respiratory infections.
  • Don’t smoke: Smoking can irritate your throat, which can cause a sore throat.

Feeling under the weather? Visit a UPMC Urgent Care location near you.

About Urgent Care

Sometimes you need care right away, with no time to wait for an appointment. That’s where UPMC Urgent Care comes in. We offer prompt treatment for illnesses and injuries 12 hours a day, seven days a week. With several western Pennsylvania locations, plus more throughout the state, you can find immediate care close to you. Our services include treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, physicals, prescription filling, and flu shots and immunizations. Wait times are usually shorter than the emergency room for minor injuries and illnesses, and we accept most major insurance.