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What causes sore throats?

Allergies, dry air, and outdoor pollution, as well as illnesses like the common cold, flu, measles, chickenpox, mononucleosis (mono), and the croup, can all cause sore throats. These illnesses are all viral infections that will not respond to antibiotics.

Bacterial infections are responsible for only a small percentage of sore throats, including those linked with strep throat, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Most doctors recommend calling a doctor only in cases of severe sore throat accompanied by a fever, or when swollen tonsils block the throat.

Even if a sore throat isn’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, it’s still painful and may interfere with a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, there are a number of at-home remedies you can use to soothe the pain and irritation.

1. Licorice root

Licorice root has long been used to treat sore throats, and recent research shows it is effective when mixed with water to create a gargle solution. A 2009 study, for instance, found that it soothed throats and diminished coughing after surgery.

2. Slippery elm

More research is needed on slippery elm, but it has long been a traditional remedy for sore throat.

Slippery elm has a mucus-like substance in it. When mixed with water, this substance forms a slick gel that coats and soothes. To use, pour boiling water over powdered bark, stir, and drink. You may also find that slippery elm lozenges help.

3. Honey

Honey mixed in tea or simply taken straight up is a common household remedy for a sore throat. One study found that honey was even more effective at taming nighttime coughs than common cough suppressants.

Other studies have also shown that honey is an effective wound healer, which means it may help speed healing for sore throats.

4. Salt water

Gargling salt water is a known treatment for sore throats. According to the University of Connecticut, gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat and break down secretions. It’s also known to help kill bacteria in the throat.

A salt water solution consisting of 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water can help reduce swelling and keep the throat clean. This should be done every three hours or so.

5. Marshmallow root

Like slippery elm, marshmallow root contains a mucus-like substance that coats and soothes a sore throat. Simply add some of the dried root to a cup of boiling water to make tea. Sipping the tea two to three times a day may help ease throat pain.

6. Peppermint

Peppermint is known for its ability to freshen breath. However, sprays containing peppermint oil may also relieve sore throats. Peppermint has menthol, which helps thin mucus and calm sore throats and coughs.

A 2008 study reported that peppermint contains anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, which may help encourage healing.

7. Baking soda gargle

While the salt water gargle is more commonly used, gargling baking soda mixed with salt water can help to relieve a sore throat as well. Gargling this solution can kill bacteria and prevent both yeast and fungi growth.

The National Cancer Institute recommends gargling and gently swishing a combination of 1 cup warm water, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. They recommend repeating this every three hours as needed.

8. Fenugreek

Fenugreek has a large number of health benefits, and it comes in a variety of forms. You can eat fenugreek seeds, use the oil topically, or drink fenugreek tea. Fenugreek tea is a natural remedy for sore throats.

Studies have demonstrated the healing powers of fenugreek. Its anti-inflammatory effects can relieve pain, and its antibacterial properties can kill off bacteria that cause irritation or inflammation. Fenugreek is also an effective antifungal.

9. Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea is naturally soothing, and is one of the oldest herbs to be used medicinally for conditions like sore throats. It’s often used for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and astringent properties.

Some studies have shown that inhaling chamomile steam can help relieve symptoms of a cold, including a sore throat. Drinking chamomile tea can offer these same benefits. It can also stimulate the immune system, aiding your body in fighting off whatever caused your sore throat in the first place.

Sore throat remedies for infants and children

While sore throats in infants and young children definitely aren’t fun, the good news is that they’re rarely the sign of a medical emergency on their own. However, treating sore throats may be different for infants and children. Some tips and remedies for sore throats in young children include:

  • Adding cool mist or a humidifier to your child’s room can help to relieve pain, thanks to moisture in the air.
  • Honey shouldn’t be given to children under 1 year old.
  • Keep children hydrated by encouraging them to drink as much as possible. Avoid juices or popsicles with lots of citrus.


Preventing a sore throat involves staying away from those who are sick with an infectious illness like the flu or strep throat, and washing your hands frequently. You can also avoid spicy or particularly acidic foods, and stay away from chemical fumes or smoke that could cause inflammation.

Over-the-counter treatments

When natural remedies just aren’t cutting it, there are several over-the-counter treatment options. Ibuprofen can be an effective pain reliever. Follow it with a full glass of water while sitting or standing up so it doesn’t stay in the throat and cause irritation. Acetaminophen can also be effective, and can be given to young children.

In addition to pain-relieving oral treatments, over-the-counter options like lozenges or numbing sprays can provide relief.

Other potential options

Other potential sore throat soothers include eucalyptus, which you’ll likely find in natural throat lozenges and cough syrups. Trying out these various natural remedies — while making sure to drink lots of fluids and get your rest — may help you feel better more quickly, and save you a trip to the doctor’s office.