We’re all familiar with that scratchy, itchy, painful-to-swallow feeling we call a sore throat. Some episodes of pharyngitis come with colds or the flu, while others stand alone to create your misery. No matter what the cause, these natural remedies served up by top doctors will have you feeling better in no time.
The best part? You probably have most of them in your kitchen already to save you a trip to the drug store.
Some research shows that honey works better at relieving sore throats than a placebo and dextromethorphan, a common over-the-counter medicine. Not only does it give the throat a protective coating, it also has antibacterial properties. “Honey contains a compound that is converted into hydrogen peroxide in addition to other antimicrobial compounds,” says Caroline Roberts, M.D., assistant residency director at UNC Family Medicine. “However, children less than a year old should not be given any honey because of an increased risk of botulism.”
“This is your excuse to have ice cream,” says Joseph Ladapo, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Anything that’s frozen — ice itself, Popsicles, frozen yogurt — numbs the tissue and nerves and reduces pain.” Plus, who wouldn’t feel a little better after indulging in a treat?
“Warm drinks can be soothing for the throat,” says Dana Neutze, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at UNC Family Medicine. “There is a small amount of evidence that herbal teas, including marshmallow root, licorice root, and elm inner bark help with pain, but the reason is not known.” Ginger, sage, thyme, and chamomile teas may be worth a shot too.
There’s a reason your mom or grandma probably told you to do this. “A saltwater gargle helps with swelling and keeping the mouth clean,” says Monika Jindal, M.D., a physician at Denver Health. “Most recipes suggest ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of warm water.” It’s totally safe (and easy on the wallet) to try several times a day while you’re in pain.
“Chicken soup is the most commonly prescribed home remedy for sore throat and cold symptoms,” says Dr. Roberts, “and there is actually data to show it works by inhibiting neutrophil migration, the components inside your body which cause inflammation in your throat.” However, she notes, the research hasn’t been performed on humans, and the homemade recipe used in the study worked better than store-bought kinds.
Don’t knock this until you try it. “Cook potatoes and mash them, carefully wrap them in a cloth while they’re hot, then cover with a second cloth,” advises Andreas Michalsen, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Nature Cure. “Apply to your neck and leave for a few hours.” It works like a heating pad, stimulating circulation to the area.
“This is my personal remedy of choice, though it’s not a popular one,” says Dr. Neutze. “There is not much hard evidence beyond one small study, but it is thought that the allicin in garlic has antimicrobial properties.”