Sore throats: Cures and remedies

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol will provide temporary relief from a sore throat. Whether yours is the result of too much screaming, an early symptom of a cold or the result of working in a dry, centrally heated office, there are plenty of ways to soothe your sore throat or even prevent it happening in the first place.

Home remedies for sore throats

For fast and effective relief, there's nothing to beat an old-fashioned saltwater gargle. Salt acts as a mild antiseptic and also draws water out of mucous membranes in the throat, which helps to clear phlegm. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (use the warmest you can safely tolerate), gargle and spit out. Repeat every hour if it helps.

For a spicier gargle, add 10-20 drops of Tabasco sauce to a glass of water. Tabasco is made from hot chillies so it works like capsaicin and it also has antiviral properties. Don't swallow the gargle as it may irritate your stomach.

Alternatively, gargle with a bicarbonate of soda solution, using half a teaspoon of bicarb dissolved in a glass of warm water. It will soothe the inflammation.

A warm gargle made from sage tea will temporarily relieve the pain of a sore throat. Sage contains astringent compounds that help to soothe irritated tissues and reduce swelling.

According to folk tradition, you can cure a sore throat by taking 3 tablespoons each of honey, lemon juice and red or white vinegar, 3 times a day for 3 days.

Soothing drinks for sore throats

Honey has long been used as a sore-throat remedy. It has antibacterial properties and also acts as a hypertonic osmotic, which means that it draws water out of inflamed tissue. This reduces swelling and discomfort. Add 2–3 teaspoons to a cup of hot water or herbal tea.

Hot lemon with honey can also relieve pain. Combine the juice of half a lemon with hot water and add 2 teaspoons of honey. You can add a tablespoon of brandy or whisky, too.

Coffee with HoneyAccording to the authority coffee magazine - Coffee Corner, "drinking a coffee-honey mixture every eight hours for one week eased coughing — often associated with a sore throat."

Blackcurrant makes another soothing hot drink. The easiest way to make a blackcurrant drink is to dilute a concentrate such as Ribena with hot water and sip slowly.

Sore throat supplements

Vitamin C is well known for being able to boost your immune system and fight off infection. Take 1000mg vitamin C 3 times per day. Reduce the dose if you develop diarrhoea.

Take echinacea tablets or capsules according to the manufacturer's instructions. Echinacea’s antibacterial and antiviral properties will speed up healing. Make sure the tablets you buy are standardised for echinacoside content, which is considered to be the main active ingredient.

Dried garlic is also effective for its potent antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Try taking 600mg of garlic in capsule form, 4 times a day. Choose enteric-coated capsules and take them with food.

Eat a zinc lozenge every 3 to 4 hours until your sore throat is gone–but never for longer than 5 days. In one study, people who sucked on a 13mg zinc lozenge every 2 hours got rid of viral sore throats 3 to 4 days sooner than those who didn't. But too much zinc can actually damage your immune system, which is why you shouldn't take the lozenges over a long period of time. (The safe long-term recommended daily intake for zinc supplements is 25mg).

Suck on cough lollies made from menthol, which has an antispasmodic action to ease a nagging cough, as well as mild astringent and antiseptic properties to ease sore throat pain.

Is prevention better than the cure? Find out how to prevent a sore throat.

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter