Let’s face it, a sore throat, no matter the cause, is always a pain – literally and figuratively. A lot of my patients ask me if gargling with saltwater will really help ease the symptoms of a sore throat. The answer usually surprises them.
The most common cause of a sore throat, or pharyngitis, is a viral infection such as a cold or the flu. Eventually, it resolves on its own.
Strep throat, or streptococcal infection, is caused by bacteria. Getting rid of it requires treatment with antibiotics.
Allergies can also bring on a sore throat with postnasal drip adding to the irritation and inflaming the throat.
Saltwater May Help Relieve Soreness
Gargling with saltwater is a home remedy that actually tends to do some good. Actually, gargling with any recommended liquid, whether it’s saltwater, warm water or mouthwash, may do your throat some good. While gargling with saltwater won’t make your sore throat go away entirely, it can definitely ease some of your symptoms, even in fairly severe cases.
There are several reasons behind the belief this simple concoction can help you:
- First, the salt has some antiseptic properties, which means that it can prevent bacteria from growing.
- Salt is also an excellent medium for drawing moisture. By using salt water on a sore, swollen throat, the salt can help reduce inflammation.
- The water typically used to mix the salt into is usually warm, and the warm temperature itself acts in a soothing manner – similar to putting a heating pad on a sore back or knee.
Give it a try. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt into 4 to 8 ounces of warm water. You can add honey or lemon to improve the taste. Gargle with it for about 20 seconds and then spit it out. Do not swallow the mixture because this can dehydrate you and cause stomach issues.
Other Home Remedies to Try
If what you’re dealing with is a common cold that you’ll need to just ride out, there are some other remedies that seem to work for most patients. They probably won’t make you feel 100 percent better, but trying a combination of these things can improve your symptoms and make dealing with your cold a little easier.
- Use a humidifier – Dry air can make your sore throat feel worse, so adding a cool-air humidifier puts some of that moisture back into your environment and can help ease some of that soreness.
- Drink fluids – Any time you’re sick, it’s important to stay hydrated. Drinking fluids (without caffeine or alcohol, which can cause further dehydration), can help keep your throat moist.
- Try lozenges – This is another way to keep your throat moist when it’s dry and sore.
- Warm or cold – See what temperature makes your throat feel better. For some people, warm tea or lemon water feels soothing. For others, cold foods, like popsicles, work best.
- Rest – You need to rest both your body and your voice to give your immune system the strength it needs to fight the cold.
The Best Cure Is Being Proactive
The best way to help a sore throat is to prevent the transmission of germs that cause them. This means taking care, especially during cold season, to avoid germs. Wash your hands frequently and for about 30 seconds each time – and carry around an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in case there isn’t a facility to wash your hands nearby. Don’t share food, utensils or drinking glasses. Don’t put your mouth near other people’s phones or public drinking fountains and frequently clean things in your home that are touched by multiple people, like remotes, door knobs and keyboards.
Dr. Tahirih Baker is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic where she diagnoses and treats a wide range of health issues. Her clinical interests include women’s health and preventive medicine.