How to care for a sore throat

sore throat

Along with colds, headaches, and other assorted aches and pains, most of us can expect to get a sore throat at least once during the year. The remedies are not so much to cure the sore throat as to make you more comfortable until it’s over. The critical factor is deciding when to tough it out and when to head for the doctor’s office.

The suggestions here are not a substitute for your doctor’s advice. If you know how to care for a sore throat, you can work through the pain and inconvenience. And you’ll also know when it’s time to pick up that phone and make an appointment.

The causes of sore throat are varied. It can be caused by a virus, sinus drainage, breathing through the mouth, or, in the case of strep, by bacteria. It can also result from medications used to treat other ailments.

No matter the cause, the symptoms are usually the same: difficulty in swallowing, a scratchy throat, and hoarseness.

First line of defense

You wake up in the morning and recognize the symptoms of a sore throat in progress. The day is booked solid—you don’t have time to be sick. What to do?

The simplest and most readily available treatment for sore throat symptoms is a salt water gargle. Dissolve a teaspoon salt in a glass of warm water. If you catch it early enough, the salt water gargle may be enough to nip it in the bud. Or your favorite mouthwash may do the job. A drink of honey and lemon in water is also soothing.

A humidifier can help relieve symptoms caused by dry air or mouth breathing. Or place a pan of water in the room to provide extra moisture. A decongestant or nasal spray may eliminate the need to breathe through the mouth. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin can relieve the pain.

Some people swear by zinc lozenges. Let them dissolve under your tongue for best results. Now would be a good time to load up on an extra dose of vitamin C.

Throat sprays, cough syrups, and decongestants can also come in handy. You may have to try several brands to see what works for you. Check the ingredient labels. Sometimes a generic has the same ingredients as a more expensive name brand.

Remember that all medication has side effects. Read and heed the warnings. Follow dosage guidelines. Misuse of some products can result in serious consequences.

For more persistent symptoms, gargling with apple cider vinegar can help. Dilute the vinegar so it is palatable. The stronger you can tolerate it the better. After gargling, you may want to swallow it. Drinking it is said to have medicinal value. Be sure to rinse your mouth well afterwards. The acids in vinegar are not kind to tooth enamel.

On the go

Once you leave the privacy of your home, you will need to adapt your arsenal. (Unless you have a convenient flask for carrying along your apple cider vinegar.) Keep in mind that many cold remedies on the market, especially the liquid versions, contain alcohol. Read the warning labels. Do not drive or operate machinery while under the influence of your cough syrup. Check also for included sleep aids. If the medications are intended for nighttime use, additional cautions apply.

Many over-the-counter remedies can keep you going throughout the day. Cough drops and throat lozenges may be enough to see you through a mild case. In the absence of medicinal remedies, hard candies may provide relief. The action of sucking on them can increase saliva flow.

Common sense

The most natural action to take is to allow your body to heal itself. You can aid this process by giving nature what she needs to begin the cure. Much of the advice you hear for a cold applies here:

  • Get bed rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Provide adequate humidity
  • Avoid contact with others
  • Avoid smoke and other pollutants
  • Rest your voice

Folk remedies

As with many common ailments, folk wisdom provides a variety of solutions for your sore throat. Herbal remedies range from the apple cider vinegar mentioned above, to more exotic remedies. Slippery elm, licorice, sage, cayenne pepper, and ginger are some of the more recognizable ones. These may be applied as a poultice, ingested, or made into a tea. For suggested formulas, visit your local health food store or check out a natural cures web site.

In extreme cases, sucking on a clove of garlic may do the trick. Garlic is said to be lethal to numerous disease-causing organisms. Score the peeled garlic to release the juices. You will experience a slight burning sensation at first. Use this cure only when you’re by yourself. Even if the garlic doesn’t cure your sore throat, it will keep others away from you so you can be guaranteed you won’t pass it on to anyone else!

Strep throat

Only a test in your doctor’s office can determine whether you have strep throat. This is a far more serious ailment. If your attempts at self-medication fail, be sure to seek medical help.

Strep throat is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. Once it is determined that you have strep, your physician will probably put you on penicillin or another antibiotic. These antibiotics will not cure the sore throat unless it is caused by the strep bacteria. Prompt treatment of strep is important to prevent the onset of more serious, related diseases.


Many sore throats are merely benign and will pass with time—with or without your attempts to cure them.

Knowing how to care for a sore throat can ease the healing process. With a little experimentation, you can discover what works for you.