At-Home Remedies for Sore Throat

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
November 22, 2021

Sore throats are common, but they’re never a good sign.

Even if they occur without other symptoms—which can sometimes happen—they’re unpleasant.

At other times, a sore throat can be an indicator of another condition or illness.

No matter what is causing your sore throat, you want relief.

And there are several natural home remedies that can help you ease the pain.

In this article, I’ll talk about what a sore throat is, and some common causes.

I’ll outline some home remedies and medications that can help ease symptoms, as well as strategies that can help you avoid future sore throats.

Finally, I’ll help you know when you should talk to a doctor about your symptoms.

What Is a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is irritation of the throat.

It may feel like scratchiness, burning, rawness, dryness, and you may experience pain when swallowing.

The most common form of sore throat is called pharyngitis.

This is an inflammation of the pharynx, which is located at the back of your throat.

Pharyngitis is commonly associated with a scratchy feeling in the throat and pain or difficulty swallowing.

Two other common forms of sore throat are:

  • Tonsillitis: swelling of the tonsils, located at the back of your mouth
  • Laryngitis: swelling of the larynx (voice box or vocal cords)

All forms of sore throat may be characterized by pain, dryness, or rawness that lasts for days, or by a more intense pain when eating, swallowing, speaking, or coughing.

Common Causes

The causes of a sore throat can vary.

While you may think that many sore throats are strep throat, caused by streptococcus pyogenes, only 5-15% of adult sore throats and 20-30% of sore throats in kids are caused by strep.

Viral infections, like the common cold or flu (influenza), are the most common cause of sore throat.

Other causes include:

  • Mono (mononucleosis)
  • Measles
  • Chicken pox
  • Croup (primarily in children) 
  • Tonsillitis
  • Bacterial infection (including strep throat or streptococcal pharyngitis)
  • Allergies
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Environmental irritants
  • Vocal muscle strain

Symptoms

Symptoms of sore throat may include:

  • A sensation of scratchiness or rawness in the throat
  • Pain that is aggravated by swallowing or talking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore, swollen glands
  • Swollen tonsils
  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Hoarseness, loss of voice, or voice change due to swelling of glands/tonsils
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad breath

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Treatment for Sore Throat

Most sore throats, except for bacterial infections like strep throat, do not need antibiotics.

In many cases, home remedies can help ease the pain and irritation. 

Natural and At-Home Remedies

If you’re experiencing a painful sore throat, you may be able to find some relief in your pantry.

Try one of these natural remedies: 

  • Salt water: While salt water is not an immediate pain-reliever, it helps kill bacteria, loosen mucus, and reduce inflammation. Add half a teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of warm water and gargle the water in the back of your throat. A saltwater gargle can be done at least twice a day until your sore throat is gone. 
  • Honey: Honey contains natural antibacterial properties that enable it to soothe wounds and suppress coughs. Mix two tablespoons of honey with warm water or tea, stir well, and drink.
  • Tea: Herbal teas have been used to soothe sore throats for centuries. The warmth of the liquid and medicinal properties of certain herbs can be a perfect combo. Almost any kind of tea may help. Some of the most popular and effective teas include chamomile, turmeric, green, peppermint, and raspberry.
  • Hot sauce or cayenne pepper: Believe it or not, hot sauce or cayenne pepper can help your sore throat. Both are made from peppers high in capsaicin, which can be used to combat inflammation and provide relief. Try adding a few drops of hot sauce or a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper to a warm glass of water and gargle. 
  • Baking soda: While gargling salt water is more common, you can also try gargling baking soda to treat a sore throat. Doing this is believed to kill bacteria and prevent the growth of yeast and fungi. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of warm water and gargle. 
  • Humidifier: While it can’t be found in your pantry, a humidifier is another great way to relieve your sore throat. Dry air is no good for a sore throat, and can even be the cause. A humidifier will keep the air moist and your sinuses open—especially while you sleep. 

Medication

If natural remedies don’t interest you—or if they just aren’t working—there are several over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can take for a sore throat. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) help with pain that’s located a little deeper in the glands and other parts of the neck.

You can also try a sore throat spray that contains a numbing antiseptic like phenol, or a cooling ingredient like menthol or eucalyptus.

What To Avoid With a Sore Throat

Now that you know what will help your sore throat, here are a few things you should avoid:

  • Foods that are difficult to swallow 
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Essential oils
  • Dry air
  • Smoking
  • Acidic foods

When To See a Doctor

While sore throats caused by a virus can go away on their own, sore throats caused by bacteria should be treated with antibiotics.

You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Throat pain that’s severe, prolonged, or not improving
  • Trouble swallowing, breathing, or opening your mouth
  • Coughing up blood or have blood in your saliva
  • Feel enlarged lymph nodes, or lumps, in your neck
  • Have white patches on the back of your throat or a rash, possible signs of strep throat
  • Have a high fever
  • Lose your voice for more than a week or two

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are sore throats contagious?
Yes, pharyngitis (both viral and bacterial) is contagious and can be transmitted from one person to another. Sore throats caused by allergies, trauma, toxins, and other environmental irritants are not contagious. If you have a sore throat, it’s best to use caution and avoid close contact with others until it gets better.
What is the fastest way to get over a sore throat?
While there is no way to cure a sore throat on the spot, visiting a doctor to determine the cause and proper treatment is the best way to start getting better. In addition, trying at-home remedies can help soothe the pain and hopefully expedite the recovery process.
Is a sore throat dangerous if left untreated?
If left untreated, strep throat can sometimes develop into a more serious illness, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or rheumatic fever—a disease that impacts the heart.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.