Sore throats can be the worst. It starts with that scratchy irritation, and before you know it you’re cringing with every painful swallow. (Insert frowny-face emoji here.) They can come from viral infections, bacterial infections, allergies, and even muscle strains. So unless you’re a superhero, there’s a good chance you’ve had one before.
But you don't need a cape—or even OTC medicine—to get some relief. Try these science-backed strategies—including dessert!—to feel better fast without leaving the house (OK you might need to make a quick trip to the grocery store).
Think of sage as a super multitasker: It’s been used as an herbal remedy for many ailments (even infertility in ancient Egypt). And while we’re not sure it’ll help in the baby-making department, it can soothe that nasty sore throat thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Try using it as a tea; the warm liquids will help too (win-win!).
2. Licorice Root
While Twizzlers and Red Vines may not keep the pain away, the root of the licorice shrub has been known to alleviate pain and even treat health issues like heartburn, cough, and infections caused by viruses. There are a ton of recipes for licorice root tea worth sipping on, and it’s been proven effective. One study even found that it soothed the throats of patients after surgery if they gargled with it before going under A randomized, double-blind comparison of licorice versus sugar-water gargle for prevention of postoperative sore throat and postextubation coughing. Ruetzler K., Fleck M., Nabecker S., et. al., Department of Outcomes Research, Cleveland Clinic, 9500 Euclid Ave.-P77, Cleveland, OH, Anesthia and Analgesia. 2013 Sep;117(3):614-21. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e318299a650. Epub 2013 Aug 6..
This sore throat remedy has been in rotation since ancient times and with good reason. Adding bee’s honey to warm water or tea is considered a steadfast treatment for a sore throat. Even better, you probably already have a jar kicking around in your kitchen. So dig out that squeezy bear bottle and add a dollop to your mug, as science supports the use of this throat coat Medicinal and cosmetic uses of Bee’s Honey—A review. Ediriweera, E. R. H. S. S. and Premarathna, N. Y. S., Institute of Indigenous Medicine, University of Colombo, Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka., Ayu. 2012.
There’s a reason echinacea is all over the pharmacy in multiple forms, including extracts, tinctures, tablets, capsules, and ointments: A variety of studies have shown it boosts the immune system and relieves inflammation. Herbalists recommend echinacea to shorten the duration of the common cold, including easing symptoms like cough, fever, and, you guessed it—sore throats.
5. Marshmallow Root
While not exactly a prescription for s’mores—we wish!—the mucilage in marshmallow root has been a proven remedy for sore throats. In fact, it’s been soothing sore throats for thousands of years. There are few studies conducted on marshmallow root’s effect on humans, but years of history and traditional medicine say it’s worth trying this remedy, according to the Mayo Clinic. And in addition to being a sore throat champ and in our favorite campfire food, the herb has been reported to help everything from asthma to skin inflammation. Kumbaya, indeed!
6. Slippery Elm
The bark of the elm tree has been used as an herbal medicine in North American culture for hundreds of years. It’s especially helpful when it comes to soothing the throat because it also contains mucilage, a substance that becomes gel-like when mixed with water. You probably won’t have slippery elm lying around the house, but it’s worth hitting a health or convenience store to keep a supply handy when a scratchy throat persists.
Liz Lemon knew the virtue of a humidifier, and experts agree: It helps add moisture to the air, which can soothe a swollen nose and throat tissue that often accompanies a cold. No humidifier nearby? Close the bathroom door and take a long steam shower—make sure you breathe in deeply.
8. Ice Cream, Fro-Yo, and Popsicles (Oh My!)
Oh happy day! Health experts suggest eating soft cold or frozen foods to help ease the pain of scratchy throats. Now, that doesn’t mean you have cart blanche to down a quart of mint chocolate chip, but, hey, it’s rare to hear the advice that ice cream will do you good, so you might as well take advantage with a few scoops.
According to the American Cancer Society, rinsing your mouth on the regular with a salt and baking soda mixture (1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt mixed in 1 quart water) will help prevent infections and help your throat feel better. Or you can gargle with salt water multiple times a day—try a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon and 1 cup warm water.
Shots! Just kidding. But not entirely: Adding water to whiskey and gargling has been known to numb the throat and sooth irritation. And if you end up swallowing some in the process, well, it can be our little secret.
This cannot be emphasized enough. Taking a break and resting your voice is one of the best ways to feel better faster. Instead of chatting on the phone to a friend, try silent meditation or a nap. Let your body come back from whatever infection it is fighting, and you can get back to being your best self. (Bonus: This remedy is 100 percent free!)
Not Tied to Natural Cures? Keep These in Mind
Another tried-and-true remedy, lozenges keep your throat moist and soothed. If you don’t have cough drops at home, try sucking on hard candies; they can offer the same relief by increasing saliva and lubricating away rawness and irritation. When shopping for lozenges, look for ones with menthol that might help numb out any pain. (Just note the effects are temporary, so you might find yourself unwrapping one after another—but if they taste like candy, who’s complaining?) Feeling crafty? There are plenty of recipes for homemade herbal throat lozenge online.
Got a bottle of ibuprofen or acetaminophen in that medicine cabinet? Pop that sucker open! You may only think of these when it comes to headaches, but these OTCs reduce inflammation and ease pain of all kinds, so take the recommended amount (under your physician’s guidance). And while you’re at it, grab a popsicle and fire up Netflix too—it’s a sick day after all!
When to Call in the Pros
Unfortunately not everything can be fixed with ice cream. (Dang!) While these at-home remedies should do the trick for most sore throats, keep in mind that some health issues may be lurking. If your throat is severely painful or is accompanied with a high fever (or if you feel super sick to your stomach), be sure to make a doctor’s appointment right away.