Photo of a woman holding a sore throat
Natural and home remedies can help lessen the pain of a sore throat

Natural ways to soothe a sore throat

8 October, 2013

Although we talk about having a sore throat as if it was a singular event, there can be many types of sore throat.

Your sore throat might come with a raw burning sensation, swollen glands, laryngitis, hoarseness, and light to severe pain. It might bring symptoms like fever, earache, and runny nose. A sore throat that comes on slowly is often an early indication that you are coming down with cold or flu. One that comes on quickly could be Strep throat or tonsillitis and can be very painful and comes on suddenly.

With the exception of strep throat most sore throats are caused by viruses and there is little that modern medicine can do to help. Antibiotics, which are greatly overprescribed for such conditions will not help, since these are only effective for bacterial infections (serologically confirmed strep throat being one of these).

Some wake up every morning with a sore throat that improves as the day goes on. This may be due to snoring or allergies and requires a different approach than if you have a cold.

For the sore throat that accompanies a cold or flu most healthcare practitioners recommend paracetamol, rest and fluids as the best course of action.

Some natural remedies, however, may bring extra relief, so it’s worth exploring these.

Fluids help keep you hydrated as well as helping to thin secretions and soothe an irritated throat. Hot fluids, such as tea or soup, may help decrease throat irritation. But stick to water, herbal teas. Acidic citrus fruit juices may irritate your throat so if you want to drink these make sure they are diluted. Blackcurrant also is a popular choice when you have a sore throat or cold. Dilute in a little warm and sip slowly.

Honey is a traditional throat soother. All honeys, but especially manuka, have antiviral and antibacterial properties, which can help to speed up healing. Honey also has a soothing anti-inflammatory action on the throat. You can take a tablespoon neat or mixed with a herbal tea or little hot water and lemon (add a tablespoon of brandy or whisky for a bedtime hot toddy). Adding minced garlic to honey and a little hot water may also help; try taking a teaspoon every hour.

Herbs made into teats can help keep you hydrated and also have a medicinal effect. Try teas made from sage, thyme, rosemary, ginseng, liquorice, elderflower, chamomile or echinacea. Horehound is a traditional treatment for treating a swollen, inflamed throat. It also thins mucus, and helps make coughs more productive. To make the tea, steep 2 teaspoons chopped herb in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes; strain and drink. Herbal lozenges that include any of these are a good way to sooth your throat. Herbal supplements of garlic or echinacea may also help boost immunity. Liquorice, taken as a tea or gargle is also a good way to help relive sore throats. To make a more liquorice tea steep 1 tsp grated liquorice root (use an infuser) in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Elderberry syrup is a proven immune system booster; during cold and flu season try taking a spoonful a day.

Salt water gargles can help soothe a painful throat. Try gargling at least once each hour with 1 tsp (5 g) of salt dissolved in 8 fl oz (240 ml) of warm water. If you have postnasal drip, gargle often to prevent more throat irritation. You can also gargle with any of the herbal teas mentioned above

Coat your throat. Honey (as above) is the obvious choice, but you might also try slippery elm or marshmallow root. For the slippery elm steep a teaspoon of the inner bark in 2 cups boiling water, strain and drink (slippery elm powder also makes a nourishing drink when you don’t feel like eating much). For the marshmallow root, steep 2 teaspoons of the dried root in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes; strain and drink. Drink 3 to 5 cups a day.

Supplements Try taking 1000mg vitamin C three times a day this vitamin will help to boost your immune system and fight off infection. Zinc is also a good choice. Taken as lozenge, zinc has been shown to shorten the duration of sore throats

Essential oils can be used in steam inhalations; eucalyptus and tea tree are obvious choices, but try also sage and rosemary are also help. Lavender in a steam inhalation but also in a compress applied to the throat is also very soothing. Essential oils can also be mixed with a base oil to make a soothing chest rub. Try mixing a teaspoon of olive oil with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Gently massage into throat and upper chest area. Cover with a blanket or heating pad to help it work.

Homoeopathic remedies may also help but should be tailored to your specific symptoms. Some popular remedies include:

Belladonna 30c Top remedy for sore throats with sudden onset. Bright red, inflamed angry looking throat. Swollen glands. Dry burning heat, flushed face with fever. Burning with pain extending to right ear when swallowing. Neck tender to touch. Worse: swallowing, talking, cold air, touch. Better: sitting up in bed.

Aconite 30c Sudden onset of sore throat after exposure to cold or cold dry winds. High fever, flushed face with restlessness or anxiety. Pharynx and tonsils bright red without pus, burning and mildly swollen. Painful swallowing though intensely thirsty for cold drinks.

Hepar Sulph 30c Pain spreading to ear when not swallowing. Swollen ulcerated tonsils with offensive breath and much saliva. Splinter like pains or, sore, raw and burning. Worse: cold air and drinks. Better: warmth of bed and wrapping up head and throat.

Lachesis 30c Sore throat starts on left side. Dry, intensely swollen with a sensation of a lump in the throat. Throat dusky, purplish dry with a constant desire to swallow. Worse: left side, pressure and constriction. Better: swallowing solids.

Lycopodium 30c Sore throat starts on right side and extends to the left. Throat membrane is grey/white with ulcers. Dryness without thirst. Burning sore, rawness. Worse: swallowing, in the afternoon from 4-8. Better: warm drinks and food.

Phytolacca 30c Throat is dark red, dry and rough. May have white or grey spots on sides of throat. Cannot swallow anything hot. Very painful swollen glands. Pain shoots in both ears on swallowing and pain felt at base of tongue when sticking it out of mouth. Worse: hot drinks and hot food. Better: cold drinks

When you have a sore throat let common sense prevail. Rest, keep your talking to a minimum, especially if you have laryngitis. Avoid smoke, dairy, sugar, fried and fatty foods.

It’s also a good time to change your toothbrush (especially important when you have strep throat) as bacteria and viruses can build up on it and end up reinfecting you.