Waking up with a sore throat is such an eye roll. It's a daunting, familiar feeling we've all dealt with way too often. You can hardly swallow without your tender throat feeling dry, scratchy, and achy. Ugh, it's the worst. It's even hard to talk sometimes because your tonsils and glands feel so out of order.
I don't know about you, but when I'm sick, my productivity is ruined. My whole body shuts down. I strongly dislike not feeling like my normal self and usually try to ignore my symptoms and go on with my regular life, which inevitably makes things worse. The best way to beat a sore throat is to confront it head-on fast. We talked to Deevya Narayanan, DO, and Daniel Berliner, MD, to figure out what might be causing a sore throat—and how to get rid of it from home.
Meet the Expert
According to Narayanan, sore throats can be caused by everything from minor health issues—viral infections (common cold, mono, flu), bacterial infections (strep throat), allergies, exposure to dry air due to heaters or air conditioners, exposure to irritants like pollution, smoke, or chemicals, yelling and talking a lot, and acid reflux—to more serious ones like HIV and tumors. Keep an eye on accompanying symptoms to get an idea of what you might be dealing with; the cause of your sore throat will probably impact the method of treatment.
Whether or not you can eradicate the pain quickly "totally depends on the reason for your sore throat," confirms Narayanan. "Sometimes sore throats can't completely go away in a day; it may take a few days." According to Berliner, sore throats caused by conditions, such as strep, may require antibiotics. And, of course, "If the sore throat doesn't go away in a few days, you should consult your doctor," says Narayanan.
Read on for Narayanan and Berliner's tips for banishing sore throats.
Act On Symptoms Early
Don't do what I do and pretend everything is fine until you're bedridden; Narayanan recommends paying attention to these signs that a sore throat or cold is blooming: "A scratch or pain in the throat or pain in your throat when swallowing or talking, swollen or painful glands in your neck, white patches on your tonsils, or a muffled/change in your voice."
When you notice the signs, start following these tips as soon as possible. Early treatment could mean the difference between lingering symptoms and a fast recovery.
Get Plenty of Rest
Rest is one of the best things you can do for yourself when you're feeling under the weather, so cancel your plans and get lots of sleep. "This will save energy and allow your immune system to fight off any viruses or bacteria," says Narayanan. "It will also let your voice rest so you don't irritate it."
Drink Warm Liquids
"Try drinking lots of warm liquids except caffeine," says Narayanan. "Stick to things like broth, caffeine-free tea, and warm water with honey to soothe your throat. Fluids allow you to keep your throat moist."
Gargle with Saltwater
Gargling with saltwater is a tried-and-true method for calming an inflamed throat. Narayanan recommends mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt with 4 to 8 ounces of warm water. "[This] soothes your throat and helps get rid of some of the microbes causing the sore throat. I'd suggest doing this a few times a day if possible," she says.
Sleep with a Humidifier
Use a humidifier at night or practice steam inhalation to calm inflammation and combat dry air. "This provides moisture to your throat and minimizes irritation," says Narayanan. If you sleep with a humidifier on, you might wake up feeling noticeably better.
Suck on a Throat Lozenge
For a quick fix on the go, pop a throat lozenge. They are available over the counter at any drugstore and usually contain soothing ingredients, such as zinc or honey, to temporarily mitigate discomfort caused by a sore throat and suppress a cough. But be careful if you're coughing a lot or lying down. Narayanan says to "avoid them if there's a risk of choking."
Steer Clear of Irritants
If your throat is hurting, pay attention to your environment. Narayanan says, "Avoid exposure to smoke, cleaning products, and other irritants." You don't want the air around you to make your sore throat worse.
Take a Painkiller
For some quick relief, don't discount over-the-counter painkillers, which can minimize some of your symptoms. "Tylenol helps with pain and fevers associated with a sore throat. Ibuprofen will help with pain, fevers, and inflammation associated with a sore throat." Be sure to use these medications as directed and notify your doctor if you experience side effects.
Avoid Trigger Foods
"If your sore throat is due to acid reflux, try to avoid trigger foods," suggests Narayanan. Common foods that can exacerbate the effects of acid reflux include coffee, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and anything high in fat.
Know When to See a Doctor
As previously noted, not all sore throats can be treated on their own. Less severe ones caused by environmental factors, allergies, or the common cold should go away on their own and can be assisted with these over-the-counter and at-home remedies. But if symptoms persist, there may be something else going on that requires antibiotics or another form of doctor-directed treatment.
Berliner notes that, in addition to strep, some sore throats can be caused by Epstein-Barr, which is the virus that causes mono. "Tests like a rapid strep swab and a mono-spot can help differentiate what your sore throat is caused by and direct treatment correctly. Your health care provider should be able to answer what’s causing your sore throat and treat it appropriately," he says.