A sore throat can be the first sign of a cold, a side effect of strained vocal cords, or an indication of something more serious (like strep throat).
Regardless of the cause your immediate concern when soreness strikes is how to get relief fast. You may be tempted to run to your doctor, but some of the best treatments are home remedies and over-the-counter medicines.
Here are 10 to try the next time you’re feeling scratchy, hoarse, or just plain sick.
Anti-inflammatories: One of the most effective treatments for sore throat is probably already in your medicine cabinet: an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Advil or Aleve.
Saltwater Gargle: Several studies have found that gargling several times a day with warm salt water can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria.
Doctors generally recommend dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water.
Lozenges and Sprays: Sucking on cough drops stimulates saliva production, which can help keep your throat moist. But many varieties are no more effective than hard candies, Dr. Linder says. For an added benefit, choose brands with a cooling or numbing ingredient, like menthol or eucalyptus.
Cough Syrup: Even if you don’t have a cough (yet), over-the-counter cough syrups can help ease soreness. Like drops and sprays, they coat the throat and provide temporary pain relief. If you’re headed to work, be sure to choose a non-drowsy formula.
Fluids: Staying hydrated is very important, especially when you’re sick and your throat is irritated or inflamed. You should be drinking enough fluid so that your urine is light yellow or clear. This keeps your mucous membranes moist and better able to combat bacteria and irritants.
Tea: Tired of drinking water? A warm cup of herbal tea can offer immediate, soothing relief for a sore throat. What’s more, non-herbal teas—whether they’re made with black, green, or white leaves—contain antioxidants that are thought to strengthen immunity and ward off infection.
Chicken Soup: An age-old home remedy for colds, chicken soup can help soothe a sore throat, as well. The sodium in the broth may actually have anti-inflammatory properties, and it can feel good going down. Soup has an added benefit when you’re sick: Eating can be painful and difficult with a swollen or very sore throat, so sipping some liquid nourishment will ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need to fight off your infection.
Marshmallows: Although there’s no hard evidence that it works, sap from the marshmallow plant has been used for hundreds of years—usually in tea form—to treat coughs, colds, and sore throats. And while real marshmallow bears little relation to the puffy campfire treats that took its name, both may have sore throat-fighting properties.