Sore, scratchy throats can be the worst. It starts with that slight irritation, and before you know it, you’re cringing with every painful swallow. 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 what actually provides relief? Is ice cream good for a sore throat? What about honey and echinacea?
Try these science-backed strategies — including dessert! — to feel better fast. All you need to do is make a quick trip to the grocery store.
1. Sage and echinacea
Think of sage as a super multitasker. According to the NIH, it’s been used as an herbal remedy for all kinds of ailments since ancient times in Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
There’s also echinacea, and it’s all over the pharmacy in multiple forms — including extracts, tinctures, tablets, capsules, and ointments — for good reason. There is research that shows that sage and echinacea together make quite the dynamic duo.
In one study, researchers looked at acute sore throats in 154 patients. They divided them into two groups: one that took a chlorhexidine-lidocaine treatment and one that took a sage-echinacea spray. In the end, the all-natural group fared slightly better, without any negative side effects.
2. Licorice root
While Twizzlers and Red Vines may not keep the pain away, the root of the licorice shrub may help with your sore throat. We recommend brewing it up in a pot of tea.
Not only will the warmth feel good; it’s effective. While it’s been a minute since this research was released, we like it: one study found that licorice root was as effective as ketamine in soothing the throats of patients after surgery, as long as they gargled with it before going under.
A 2013 study confirmed the earlier results. In fact, in patients about to go under, gargling with licorice root reduced the chances of getting a sore throat by half.
This sore throat remedy has been in rotation since ancient times. Adding raw honey to warm water or tea is considered a steadfast treatment for a scratchy throat.
While this research on honey is a little older, we’re digging the results. One study showed that honey was more effective than cough suppressants for preventing coughing at night.
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.
4. Marshmallow root
While not exactly a prescription for s’mores — we wish! — the mucilage in marshmallow root has been a proven remedy for scratchy throats. In fact, it’s been soothing sore throats for thousands of years.
A 2013 study on mice found that lozenges with marshmallow root were safe and effective, though few studies have been conducted on humans.
5. Slippery elm
The bark of the elm tree has been used as an herbal medicine by Native Americans for hundreds of years. It’s commonly used to treat coughing, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal issues.
It’s also helpful when it comes to soothing the throat because it contains mucilage, a substance that becomes gel-like when mixed with water. Drink it in a tea to coat the throat and find relief.
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. However, it’s important to note that slippery elm is at risk of overharvesting in some areas, so always make sure to purchase from a sustainably harvested source. The abovementioned marshmallow root works in much the same way as a demulcent, and can also be used in its place.
A warm cup of tea doesn’t just feel cozy. Research shows it’s actually good for you, too. One older study found that inhaling chamomile tea could reduce cold symptoms, which includes that painful sore throat of yours.
Liz Lemon from 30 Rock knew the virtue of a humidifier. These help add moisture to the air, which can soothe a swollen nose and throat 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 like the Mayo Clinic suggest eating soft cold foods, 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.
9. Gargling with salt water
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.
You can also gargle with salt water multiple times per day. Try a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon and 1 cup warm water.
In case this seems too good to be true, it’s not. An older study found that gargling with salt water on a daily basis decreased the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
A 2013 study also found that those who gargled with salt water were less likely to have infections in the upper respiratory tract.
Shots! Just kidding. While the evidence for this one is purely anecdotal, some claim that adding water to whiskey and gargling it will numb the throat and soothe 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 is one of the best ways to feel better faster. Your body knows how to heal itself, by relaxing you can let it do its thing.
Instead of chatting on the phone to a friend and straining your voice, try silent meditation or a nap. Let your body come back from whatever infection it’s fighting, and you can get back to being your best self. (Bonus: This remedy is 100 percent free.)
Another tried-and-true remedy, lozenges keep your throat moist and soothed.
Just note the effects are temporary, so you might find yourself unwrapping one after another — but if they taste like candy, who’s complaining?
If you’re feeling crafty, there are plenty of recipes for homemade herbal throat lozenge online. And 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.
Over-the-counter (OTC) meds
If your pain is so bad that it’s keeping you up at night, and you’ve got a bottle of ibuprofen or acetaminophen in your 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. Be sure to take the recommended amount, and under your physician’s guidance of course.
While you’re at it, grab a popsicle and fire up Netflix — it’s a sick day after all!
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, it is accompanied with a high fever, or you feel super sick to your stomach, make an appointment with your healthcare professional right away.
Just something I’m familiar with as someone who has taken a lot of marshmallow root and slippery elm in my time!