Medically Approved

9 ways to soothe a sore throat

5 minute read
Man drinking tea

Reach for one of these home remedies — all of which are doctor-approved.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

It’s something you’ve probably experienced a million times: Your throat feels like it’s on fire. It hurts to swallow. And it feels sore and scratchy.

Odds are you’ve picked up a virus. But there are ways you can ease the pain and feel better. All it takes is a little self-care.

Here are 9 remedies doctors recommend for sore throat relief.

Sore throat soother #1: Sip warm tea

A cozy mug of tea can provide instant relief for an irritated throat.

“Warm liquids relax your throat muscles and help you feel more comfortable,” says Samuel Mathis, MD. He’s a family physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Mild tea varieties, such as chamomile, are a good bet.

Add honey to your mug for a one-two punch. Honey is known to be a natural cough suppressant.

Sore throat soother #2: Get lots of rest

“One of the best things for a sore throat is rest — to give it time to heal,” Dr. Mathis says.

True, sleeping peacefully with a sore throat can be challenging. If you feel pain and discomfort, try elevating your head with an extra pillow. That will take some pressure off your throat. (Read more on getting a good night’s sleep.)

If you’re not feeling well, you can schedule a virtual appointment with an Optum provider as soon as today — no insurance required. Get started.

Sore throat soother #3: Gargle with salt water

Gargling with salt water helps draw fluid out of your throat. That thins out mucus buildup and can offer relief.

Salt water can also help kill off any bacteria or viruses in your throat. “It’s not a replacement for antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection, but it can help the healing process,” Dr. Mathis says.

You can also add baking soda to the salt water. That may make it more effective, says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD. He’s an ear, nose and throat specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Dr. Mehdizadeh often recommends this treatment for a sore throat:

  • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda into 1 cup of lukewarm water.
  • Take a sip (don’t swallow).
  • Hold the liquid in the back of your throat.
  • Gargle for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 to 4 times a day.

Sore throat soother #4: Try something cold

Generally, warm liquids are better for sore throats than cold ones. But sipping cold liquids such as ice water can have a pain-relieving effect. It’s similar to putting cool liquids on a sunburn.

Plus, liquids of any temperature help keep you hydrated. That keeps your throat from drying out and making the soreness worse. Sucking on a popsicle could also help.

Sore throat soother #5: Use a nasal decongestant

Over-the-counter (OTC) nasal decongestants include nose sprays and drops, as well as liquids or capsules. These are all good options if you have a stuffy nose in addition to a sore throat.

Decongestants clear out sinus gunk, keeping it from dripping down into the throat and adding discomfort, Dr. Mehdizadeh says.

Don’t use them for longer than 3 days, says the American Academy of Family Physicians. Your body can become dependent on these medicines. And that could make your nose feel even more stuffed up when you stop using them.

Decongestants can also raise your blood pressure, so people with high blood pressure (hypertension) should steer clear.

Sore throat soother #6: Have some soup

It turns out that this classic cold and sore throat remedy is backed by science. Chicken soup can reduce inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Many symptoms of colds and sore throats are caused by inflammation. So cozying up with a bowl of chicken noodle soup may ease symptoms.

Plus, the broth and vegetables in chicken noodle soup offer lots of vitamins and minerals that promote healing.

Sore throat soother #7: Pop a cough drop

Many cough drops and syrups contain lidocaine or benzocaine. These pain-relieving medicines are known as local anesthetics. They numb the throat, which can relieve pain.

Cough medicines also often contain throat-soothing ingredients such as menthol, honey or pectin. But a spoonful of honey may be just as effective as cough medicine at soothing a sore throat.

Just don’t use this home remedy for children under the age of 1. Honey can contain bacteria that can cause serious illness in babies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sore throat soother #8: Try an OTC pain reliever

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be helpful for sore throats because they lower inflammation.

Naproxen (Aleve®) and ibuprofen (Advil® Motrin®) are good options. But NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. And they’re not recommended for people with kidney problems.

If you can’t take NSAIDs, try acetaminophen (Tylenol®). It won’t lower inflammation, but it can provide pain relief, Dr. Mathis says.

Sore throat soother #9: Be quiet

Try to limit how much talking you do during the day. Talking might make things worse if you’re overusing your vocal cords.

When to see your doctor

Most sore throats last 5 to 7 days. If your throat is still irritated after 7 days, make an appointment with your doctor. Or head to urgent care. Your sore throat may be a symptom of something more serious.

Strep throat is a possibility. That’s an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by a type of bacteria, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It spreads easily from person to person, especially among family members. Strep throat is more common in school-aged children, but it can also spread to adults.

When left untreated, strep throat may lead to serious illnesses, such as rheumatic fever. It’s an autoimmune disease that inflames the joints and heart.

Common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Fever
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain

Strep throat is diagnosed with a throat swab. That involves rubbing a sterile swab over the back of the throat. The swab will then be sent to a lab for testing.

If your test comes back positive, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that caused the infection.

Additional sources
Decongestants: American Academy of Family Physicians (2022). “Decongestants: OTC Relief for Congestion”
Chicken soup: Mayo Clinic (n.d.). “Common cold”
Honey and infants: American Academy of Pediatrics (2018). “Remind Families: Honey Can Cause Botulism”
Strep throat: Cleveland Clinic (2019). “Strep Throat”