How to treat a sore throat
Taking Care of a Sore Throat
Learn why a sore throat occurs and the best ways to treat it.
By Linda Melone
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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A sore throat is usually the first sign that you're sick, causing that scratchy, uncomfortable feeling that makes it difficult to swallow. Also known as pharyngitis, a sore throat happens when the tissues of the pharynx (the part of the throat behind the mouth) become inflamed.
Most sore throats that accompany colds are caused by viruses and will resolve by themselves, says William Schaffner, MD, professor and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.
Occasionally, a sore throat is caused by bacteria — a strep infection. "It is difficult to distinguish a strep infection clinically from a viral sore throat," says Dr. Schaffner. If the sore throat is discomforting enough to take you to the doctor, a quick test can diagnose whether or not it's strep. Since strep throat can sometimes lead to rheumatic fever, it's important to get tested. If you test positive, antibiotics are typically prescribed to promote recovery and prevent spread of the strep bacteria to others. When a sore throat is part of common cold symptoms (including coughing, runny nose, etc.), it's less likely to be strep throat.
Other Sore Throat Causes
Aside from cold viruses and bacterial infections, sore throats may also be caused by dry winter air, which irritates the throat. "Breathing only through the mouth also further dries and exacerbates the problem," says Mark A. Moyad, MD, MPH, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Other sore throat culprits include allergies, which can cause inflammation and irritation, and certain viruses, including the flu. Dr. Moyad notes there's even a type of virus that can cause blisters in the throat.
Treatments and Home Remedies for Sore Throats
Most sore throats will go away within a week or so. And, since viruses cause the majority of sore throats associated with colds, no effective medical therapy currently exists. Recommendations to ease sore throat pain are often the same as those used to treat cold symptoms: drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest. For extremely sore throats, drinking warm soup through a straw or sucking on ice chips may help.
A recent study from Pennsylvania State University found that about one to two teaspoons of honey before bed worked as well as the leading conventional cough medicine ingredient (dextromethorphan), says Moyad, noting that honey is soothing to the back of the throat and contains anti-microbial compounds similar to hydrogen peroxide. "I recommend honey before bed and warm salt water gargle (a half teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water) during the day along with a vitamin C supplement," he says. Because the acidity of regular vitamin C may cause stomach issues, taking a non-acidic vitamin C like Ester-C (500-1000 mg/day) may improve recovery time from colds, he continues.
Or try some of these other sore throat pain-relieving tips:
- Use a humidifier.
Video: How to Soothe a Sore Throat Naturally
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