Especially during the dead of winter, we often find ourselves needing to soothe irritated, inflamed throats and fight coughs. If you’ve grown wary of the groggy experience of cough medicines, and want a more natural approach, there are better alternatives that can relieve your pain. If you don’t want to include yourself as one of the 40 million people who visit the doctor for a sore throat each year, you can try a few easy solutions and take matters into your own hands.
When your throat is aching, scratchy, and sensitive, it can be one of several things – all of which are fairly simple to understand. Your pharynx, or the tube that connects the back of your mouth to your esophagus, becomes inflamed and gets uncomfortable, it’s hard to swallow. Viral infections are a common cause, and these include colds and the flu. While this type of illness can’t be cured, the symptoms (runny nose, achy muscles, fever) can be treated. As many of us have experienced, sore throats caused by viral infections wear off on their own after a few days. Bacterial infections are another source, most commonly streptococcal bacteria (strep throat). These last significantly longer and take more effort to treat, such as antibiotics. Bacterial infections usually bring symptoms like swollen neck glands, headache, and stomachache.
These two are very likely causes for sore throat, but irritation can occur in a slew of other ways, as well. Some examples include:
- Food allergy
- Infected tonsils
- Acid reflux
- Dry air
- Polyps or cancer
- Breathing with your mouth
- Throat abuse (shouting, singing, coughing)
How to Treat a Sore Throat at Home
Clear Your Nasal Passages
Decongestants can be helpful, but so can hot liquids, and steam from the shower or a pot of water. According to many physicians, two of the most common sources of sore throat discomfort are dry throat (from sleeping with your mouth open and blocking nasal passages) and postnasal drip. To clear the pathways to breathing correctly, find the method that suits you best. Humidifiers are a great help at nighttime, ensuring you breathe properly. Saline nasal sprays also help for a short period of time.
Though gargling is also suggested below, drinking hot liquids is an excellent way to soothe your sore throat. Coffee, tea, and hot lemonade help greatly, though tea is the winner in most cases. This provides your throat with a similar effect to using a hot pack on infected skin. While there are many soothing teas available in stores, notably Yogi and Good Earth brands, you can make a marjoram tea at home with a spoonful of marjoram and a cup of boiling water. Add honey for sweetness and more soothing benefits.
Make a steam tent by sitting with your face over a large bowl of steaming hot water, and drape a towel over your head to direct the flow of steam. For an extra boost of nasal passage clearing, add 1-2 drops of eucalyptus oil.
If you prefer an all-natural approach, teas, herbal cough drops, and raw honey are an obvious solution. Slippery elm bark licorice root, and marshmallow root are commonly used ingredients and herbs to look for, found in capsule or tea form. Honeysuckle flower is also a traditional Chinese medicine remedy, which is harder to find and usually found in Chinese herbal stores.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Another solution is a tea of lemon, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and honey:
Add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a small pinch of cayenne pepper, the juice from one-quarter of a fresh lemon, and one teaspoon of honey to a cup of hot water. Stir, and drink up to four cups per day. You can also try substituting the cayenne pepper for 1 teaspoon of salt. Additionally, eat honey as often as you see fit – but do not give it to children under two years old, as it can cause a sort of food poisoning and allergic reactions in infants.
Rest and Relax
Of course, when you’re not feeling your best, the most sensible action to take is as little action as possible. Increasing your sleep, relaxing, and not doing anything terribly strenuous provides the body more energy to combat the infection on its own. If your throat problems don’t necessitate a visit to the doctor, resting should help you heal sufficiently.
Gargling is another great solution using natural and inexpensive ingredients. Using the following ingredients can help support your throat’s recovery and even gain some other relieving benefits. Note: do not drink any liquid you have used as a gargle.
- Sage: Mix one teaspoon in one cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Add one teaspoon each of apple cider vinegar and honey, and gargle four times daily.
- Raspberry Tea: Pour one cup of boiling water over two teaspoons of dried leaves. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Raspberry tea gargle is also effective in reducing fever.
- Turmeric: Mix 1 cup of hot water, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (sea salt, if you like). Gargle twice daily. If gargling is difficult, try mixing 1/2 teaspoon turmeric in 1 cup hot milk and drinking the mixture.
- Salt Water: Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to 1/2 cup of very warm water. Stir, and gargle every 3-4 hours. This gargle cuts phlegm and reduces inflammation.
Mix 1 tablespoon each of honey and lemon (or lime) juice and take as often as needed.
Just taking an acetominophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin can help relieve a sore throat quite easily. Aspirin should not be given to children under 19, though, as a potentially life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome can result. If you are pregnant or nursing, you should ask your doctor prior to taking any medication. Over-the-counter medications always have some risk involved, so make sure you know what you’re taking and if you’re safe beforehand.
When to Consult a Doctor
If you have symptoms of a bacterial infection, it could be strep throat, which can lead to more serious illnesses like rheumatic fever and scarlet fever. Anyone whose symptoms match the throat pain, swelling of the lymph nodes and neck glands, headache, and/or stomachache, should see a doctor. Also, if you have a sore throat that lasts longer than two or three days, a visit to the physician’s office would be suggested.
1. Discovery Health. 14 Home Remedies for Sore Throats.
2. Wong. About.com Alternative Medicine. Sore Throat Remedies – 6 Ways to Get Relief.
3. Image: Kabonna Green.