While a lot of people take antibiotics to try and treat a sore throat, or pharyngitis, 90% of the time this class of drugs won’t be successful in killing off the infection that has caused the sore throat.
This is because antibiotics are good at treating throat infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria, as it turns out, are only responsible for causing about 10% of all sore throats in the morning. By far, the biggest culprit in triggering a throat infection is a virus.
Not every sore throat—even if it really hurts—warrants a trip to the doctor. But the fact is that you still need a good night’s sleep and to get on with your day. Thankfully, there are a number of home remedies that can help you ease the pain.
In This Article:
Home Remedies to Manage Pharyngitis (Sore Throat)
1. Raw Honey
Honey has been noted to have antibacterial effects that can be useful in treating a sore throat. A 2013 review of natural honey uses in human diseases noted that modern clinical investigations have shown it can stop roughly 60 strains of bacteria, as well as certain viruses and fungi. (1)
Raw honey has also shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that may relieve irritation and swelling. You can add honey to tea or warm milk to soothe a sore throat.
2. Chicken Soup
Chicken soup has been a go-to remedy for sore throats for as long as most of us can remember. It doesn’t necessarily contain any special healing compounds, but it does provide soothing warmth and is a comforting way to boost your liquid intake—an essential part of treating colds and congestion and lubricating the throat.
For some added benefit, you can make your own chicken noodle soup using bone broth. Bone broth can add hydration and offers nutrients like collagen-forming amino acids, magnesium, and potassium to support immunity and promote healing.
Adding garlic to your chicken soup or other meals is another way to help treat the irritating effects of a sore throat. Crushed garlic contains an active compound called allicin that provides antimicrobial and antiviral benefits. (2)
If you don’t like the taste of raw garlic, it’s available in supplement form.
4. Licorice Root
Widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, licorice root has been scientifically proven to contain antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory capabilities that could help treat a sore throat. (3)
Licorice works by inhibiting bacterial and viral gene expression so they cannot replicate. You can take it by adding it to water and gargling.
One study in particular showed that licorice root reduced throat pain in patients who breathed through a tube during surgery, while another study found that individuals who gargled licorice root prior to surgery were less likely to experience a sore throat afterwards. (4, 5)
Putting lemon in tea or sucking on a piece of lemon has also been noted as an effective home remedy to soothe a sore throat. Lemon is rich in vitamin C and other compounds that can fight against infection and inflammation. (6)
The citrus fruit also increases saliva production, which can help keep the throat lubricated.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is another folk medicine that can be effective to relieve a sore throat. Its main active ingredient, acetic acid, can help fight the bacteria that cause irritation in throats. (7)
Apple cider vinegar is very potent, so it’s best to dilute it with water. Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to one cup of warm water and drink it down. You can add a tablespoon of honey to make it more appetizing.
Saltwater gargle—the sore throat remedy passed down from generation to generation actually does have beneficial properties. The water-absorbing activity of salt works to draw fluids, and harmful pathogens, out of your mouth’s tissues. (8)
Take a cup (8 ounces) of warm (not hot) water and mix in a half-teaspoon of table salt. Gargle as you like and repeat up to three times per day as needed. It’s important not to go over three gargling sessions in a single day to avoid accidentally drying out any non-inflamed tissue in your throat.
If you were curious, warm water is used because cold can aggravate an inflamed throat and hot has its own discomfort problems to worry about.
Water: Keeping the throat lubricated and moist while drinking fluids to help flush out the causes of illness, makes water an essential component in treating a sore throat. Adding some apple cider vinegar, honey, garlic, or other antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents can also help.
Try to drink water throughout the day for the best benefit, shooting for that oft-recommended number of at least eight glasses per day.
Hot drink: Warm water, hot tea, coffee, and the like can also offer soothing relief to a sore or irritated throat. Hot liquids can open up airways and nearly instantly relieve sore throats, lasting for the duration of consumption and sometimes even leading to some post-drink relief. (9)
A hot beverage is sort of like a “Band-Aid,” an immediate and short-lived form of relief. Of course, you could extend the benefits by adding some lemon, garlic, or licorice root to a tea.
Hot toddy: A hot toddy is often used as a nightcap, and it can come in handy if your pharyngitis is making rest difficult. The ingredient list is fairly basic and preparation is equally simple.
First, assemble the following:
- 1 tbsp honey (or more, if you like the taste)
- 4 oz hot water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 oz bourbon or whiskey (optional)
Yes, this home remedy includes alcohol. It’s optional—it’s a small, diluted amount, and it can anecdotally help you sleep.
Pour the alcohol into a large mug along with the honey and leave the spoon in after. Add in the hot water, and while pouring, try to get it to knock off as much honey from the spoon as you can. Add in the lemon juice and stir. A quick zap in the microwave will heat things up but not boil (less than one minute), and enjoy.
9. Take Rest
When your body starts to hurt, nose starts to sniffle, or you experience other non-severe symptoms, it’s usually your body telling you it needs a rest. Whether you haven’t been sleeping well, you’ve been stressing too hard, or you’re giving a little extra effort somewhere, it can take a toll on your body.
Taking a day or two to rest up, get a little more sleep, and relax can send a sore throat packing.
Furthermore, some studies have shown that poor sleep patterns in the weeks preceding exposure to the common cold virus are linked to lower resistance to illness. (10)
If your throat is dry, a bit of steam can help add some needed moisture. If you count a stuffy nose among your symptoms, steam can help loosen the plugs and ease congestion as well. A nice, hot shower with the door closed and fan off will help build up a wave of steam that can be used.
Alternatively, you try a more direct approach.
Get a medium or large bowl and fill it up about halfway with hot water. Lean over the bowl so that you are in a position to inhale the rising steam, and then drape a towel over your head to make a small tent to aid in the process.
Optionally, you can add some scented oils you find soothing to help enhance the experience.
11. Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus oil has long been used as an antiseptic treatment for a variety of conditions, including a sore throat. Studies have shown the antibacterial effects of eucalyptus oil, particularly against staphylococcus. (11)
One of the best ways to use eucalyptus oil to treat a sore throat is by putting a few drops into a clean diffuser. You can also gargle a few drops with water.
Eucalyptus can help stimulate immunity from infections and offer antioxidant protection.
Echinacea is a herb that’s shown therapeutic value to help fight off colds and other infections, thereby reducing the chances of symptoms like a sore throat. Research has shown that a combination of Echinacea and sage, administered as a spray into the mouth, can help relieve a sore throat with moderate success in about three days. (12)
13. Frozen Treats
Ice cream and popsicles can feel soothing and help numb the throat, which reduces pain from pharyngitis. Psychologically, a sweet treat can also help relax your mood and make you feel more comfortable and restful. Sucking on ice chips can have a similar—but not as delicious—effect.
How Long Does Pharyngitis Last?
Pharyngitis—the medical term for a sore throat—generally lasts from five to seven days if it’s caused by a virus. If it’s strep throat and you’re on an antibiotic, it will last for two to three days once you’ve begun your regimen.
If your sore throat is caused by the fact you were yelling all day, talking too much, or another acute cause, it could take a day or two to return to normal.
If you’ve been drinking plenty of liquids and trying remedies to get rid of your sore throat naturally for about a week with no results, you may want to plan a trip to the doctor.
If the doctor decides to give you an antibiotic, make sure to take it for the entire prescribed course. Even if the pain goes away, the cause of the virus could still be alive in your body and present symptoms later on, or you could be at increased risk of spreading the condition.
Tips to Prevent Pharyngitis (Sore Throat)
The best way to prevent a sore throat is to avoid the germs that often lead to them. Of course, making sure you keep your throat lubricated by drinking plenty of water and making sure your home is free of allergens and dust can also help.
Some other prevention tips include:
- Washing your hands regularly, and especially when coming in from outdoors, before eating, and after a sneeze or cough
- Not sharing food, drink, or utensils
- Coughing and sneezing into a tissue and throwing it away immediately
- Avoiding touching public phones/water fountains with your mouth
- Regularly cleaning your phone, remotes, and other handheld devices
- Avoiding close contact with sick people
- Getting good sleep
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular activity
When to See a Doctor
As mentioned earlier, if your sore throat has not subsided in a week, you may want to see a doctor. It’s also recommended to see a doctor if a sore throat is accompanied by these symptoms:
- Trouble swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Struggling to open your mouth
- Sore joints
- A fever exceeding 101° F (38° C)
- Stiff neck
- Blood in saliva/phlegm
Sometimes a sore throat can be a big hassle, but you don’t want to add to its impact on your life by hiking all the way to the doctor. In many cases, pharyngitis is nothing other than a little discomfort to worry about, and can be relieved by using some simple, affordable, and schedule-friendly home remedies.
Most of the time, you’ll experience the relief you seek in a day or two, but if the symptoms are worsening and still present after about a week, you may need to go ahead and schedule that doctor’s visit.