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A sore, scratchy throat can spoil your day, but there are sore throat remedies that will help soothe the pain.
If you currently wince every time you swallow, you're not alone. 'Sore throats are a common complaint, especially during winter and early spring,' says nutritional therapist Claire Barnes. But before you call the doctor for antibiotics, it's worth knowing that just like there are plenty of natural cough remedies out there, you can cure a sore throat from the comfort of your own home too.
"Viral infections, such as colds, are by far the most common cause of sore throats, reported to trigger 80% of cases," says Claire. "Though they can also be caused by bacterial and fungal infections. Or one can be initiated through smoking, snoring, shouting, pollutants, acid reflux or allergies."
Here, we take a look at natural treatments, drinks and over-the-counter medicines that will ease your symptoms and come in handy after a number of cough medicines have been withdrawn from shelves.
Sore throat remedies - natural treatments
1. Hot lemon & honey
A hot drink of lemon and honey is considered one of THE go-to sore throat remedies. But as well as the healing ingredients the temperature of the water is also important.
'According to a study in 2008, having hot water as opposed to room temperature water may provide even more benefits while you have a sore throat,' says Claire.
Claire recommends some local raw honey, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and has also been shown to reduce mucus secretion and coughs, and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, as it also helps a sore throat due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity.
'Lemons are also high in vitamin C, which supports immune function and increases salivation to help keep the throat moist,' she says. 'For added antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits, grate in some fresh ginger as well.'
'When your immune system needs some extra support, keep up your nutrient levels,' says Claire, who works with Bio Kult. 'It’s important to keep yourself well-hydrated while you’re fighting an infection. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of liquid throughout the day.'
If you're also fighting a headache, try adding some ginger. One of the best natural headache remedies, it also has anti-inflammatory effects, which could ease a sore throat as well.
2. Ice cubes
If you're feeling chilly from the effects of a cold this may not be your first choice, but if your throat is inflamed ice is your friend – and another one of those sore throat remedies that cost next to nothing.
'Suck on ice cubes to help soothe the throat and ease inflammation,' advises Dr Nina Aslam. 'And when the ice melts, it will provide all-important hydration.'
3. Echinacea natural drink
Echinaforce Hot Drink combines echinacea and elderberry extracts to help soothe a sore throat whilst fighting any infection.
'This is a good option if you already have an infection and don’t want it to get worse or spread to those around you,' says Alison.
'Echinacea is well-researched for its antiviral effects, and elderberry is packed full of nutrients, countering infections whilst providing antioxidants in the form of flavonoids.
It tastes amazingly good too, which is a relief when your tastebuds are dealing with endless phlegm! You'll also benefit from the synergistic action of these two natural remedies,' she says.
Our health writer Debra Waters can personally attest to this drink, 'This tastes like a herbal version of Ribena and soothed my throat and cough when I had a cold."
You could also try A.Vogel's Echinacea Lozenges (£3.95, Amazon), which soothe the throat and protect an area vulnerable to airborne viruses.
4. A spoonful of honey
'Some people also take a spoonful of honey due to its natural antibacterial properties,' say Kristoffer Ahlerup at Enzymatica. 'And it can offer an immediate soothing sensation for a sore throat.'
5. Peppermint tea
Usually drunk to aid digestion, peppermint tea has myriad benefits, including easing the symptoms of a cold.
'Peppermint tea contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may help inflammation and soothe the throat, so relieving pain,' says Dr Aslam. 'It's also a pleasant and refreshing drink that contributes to fluid intake, which is very important for anyone with a sore throat.'
6. Chamomile tea steam
One of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to us is chamomile. As a tea, says Dr Nina Aslam, it's very soothing. Plus it contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which will help combat a sore throat.
You can do more than just drink chamomile. Use it to infuse the water in a steam bath to really sooth a sore throat. 'Research has shown that inhaling chamomile steam can relieve symptoms of a cold, including a sore throat,' says Dr Aslam..
We recommend: Inlight Beauty's Flower Feast Facial Steam - Naturisimo | £16
Inlight Beauty's Flower Feast Facial Steam contains chamomile, as well as calming lavender, rose and cornflowers – will not only ease a sore throat, it will hydrate and soothe irritated winter skin.
7. Fresh garlic
It may not be to everyone's taste but garlic offers a host of benefits.
'Fresh garlic is antibacterial and antiviral when crushed,' says Alison Cullen, nutritional practitioner at A. Vogel. While she admits that chewing a clove of fresh garlic 'is very few people’s idea of fun' there are ways to make it a more attractive option.
'Mix crushed garlic with honey and a little hot water,' she recommends. It's one way of making it more palatable and increases the benefits to your beleaguered throat.'
8. Gargle with saltwater
While it doesn't sound particularly pleasant, this is one of the best-known sore throat remedies – and one of the cheapest.
'One way to assist in clearing bacterial infections from the throat is gargling with salt dissolved in warm water – this works by pulling bacteria and congested mucus from the lining of the throat,' says Alison. 'Just make sure you don’t make the water too hot, and that you spit the water out after gargling!'
9. Gargle with apple cider vinegar
Again, this doesn't sound the most appetising of sore throat remedies, but if you can't face a salt rinse it's a good alternative.
'Traditionally apple cider vinegar has been used for its antimicrobial properties in infections,' says Dr Nina Aslam, a GP and expert for Puressentiel. She recommends diluting 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water. Gargle with it, then take a few sips. Repeat every couple of hours.
10. Bone broth
Like chicken soup, bone broth not only has soothing properties, it's healing.
'Bone broths are full of nutrients, are easy-to-digest and rich in flavour,' says Claire. 'Bones contain an abundance of minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and zinc (known to support the immune system), as well as 17 different amino acids such as collagen and gelatine,' she explains. 'Add some garlic, too, as it has very long history for its immune system support and healing qualities.'
11. Jamu juice
'Jamu is a healing juice that originates from Indonesia,' says Claire. 'There are many varieties of this herbal root infusion, but they typically include turmeric and ginger root – both known for their anti-inflammatory benefits. You can juice, blend or gently warm up the ingredients in a saucepan before straining,' she explains.
Claire continues: 'The great thing about this juice is that you can make a large batch and keep it in the fridge for a week, then either consume it cold or warm it up first. You can find recipes online, but I like to use fresh ginger and turmeric, lime, raw honey and coconut water.'
Sore throat remedies - medical treatments
12. Anaesthetic throat spray
If you're really struggling and need a quick fix, try Ultra Chloraseptic Anaesthetic Throat Spray. It comes in three flavours – blackcurrant, cherry or menthol – and it works fast. It doesn't heal or lubricate your throat, but you'll be granted a few painless hours.
Ultra Chloraseptic Anaesthetic Throat Spray contains a local anaesthetic to effectively numb your throat for 2-3 hours.
We recommend: Ultra Chloraseptic Anaesthetic Throat Spray- Lloyds Pharmacy | £5.99
Standard painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, can reduce the pain of a sore throat, as can over-the-counter cold and flu medicine such as Day Nurse.
Alongside paracetamol, this contains pseudoephedrine hydrochloride to shrink blood vessels in the nasal passages and relieve a stuffy nose, and the cough suppressant pholcodine.
A word of warning, though – check with your GP or a pharmacist when combining cold and flu medication, it can be dangerous to mix certain types. Depending on the medication you take, you might also want to make sure you have eaten before you ingest it. However, you can take paracetamol on an empty stomach.
We recommend: Day Nurse - Boots | £8.49
14. First Defence spray
There are products on the market now that can help to prevent or shorten a cold.
First Defence Nasal Spray can be very effective at nipping a virus in the bud. However, you'll need to take them at the very first sign of symptoms.
'A recent survey conducted by Enzymatica revealed that a scratchy/itchy throat is the most common symptom people notice as an initial sign of catching a cold (60% of participants),' explains Kristoffer. 'ColdZyme works by creating a protective barrier in the throat which is where cold viruses tend to take hold and multiply.'
He continues: 'It protects against common cold viruses, helps shorten the duration of a cold if used at the first symptoms, and alleviates cold symptoms, including a sore throat.'
We recommend: First Defence Nasal Spray - Boots | £6.55
Another commonly used over-the-counter product is throat lozenges. These come in a variety of strengths and flavours and work by coating the throat temporarily to provide relief.
Puressentiel Respiratory Lozenges contain three aromatic honeys, which help to form a barrier that soothes and protects the throat.
Puressentiel Respiratory Lozenges combine eucalyptus leaf essential oil, cardamom essential oil and propolis, with thyme honey, pine honey and eucalyptus honey,' says Dr Aslam.
She continues: 'The European Commission has approved the use of eucalyptus essential oil for respiratory tract inflammation. It's also recommended in cases of cold, flu or sinusitis. Cardamon essential oil contains antioxidants and helps to relieve the swelling of mucus membranes and the relief of pain.'
We recommend: Puressentiel Respiratory Lozenges - Holland & Barrett | £9.99
You can also give zinc a go. A commonly taken mineral to boost the immune system, it's available in lozenge form to soothe your throat.
'Clinical trials show that sucking zinc acetate lozenges, significantly reduces symptoms of the common cold compared with placebo, shortening the duration of a scratchy throat by 33%,' says Dr Brewer. Though 'they work most effectively when started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms,' she says.
We recommend: Healthspan's ImmunoVit Zinc Defence Lozenges - Superdrug | £7.99
16. Pelargonium cold relief tablets
You may not have heard of pelargonium before, but research indicates that this herbal remedy – derived from the root of a South African geranium – shows great promise as a natural treatment for coughs, sore throats and other respiratory symptoms. 'A review of eight trials confirms it can reduce a sore throat, cough, runny and blocked nose,' says Dr Brewer.
Dr Brewer continues: 'I first tried it when I had a sore throat and had lost my voice with laryngitis. Within 30 minutes of taking it, my sore throat was gone and my voice restored. I could tell when the next dose was due as my symptoms were starting to return.'
So how does this wonder herb work? 'Pelargonium root extract contains unique substances that have direct antiviral and antibiotic activity,' explains Dr Brewer. 'It boosts the activity of immune cells that absorb and neutralise infections, and stops bacteria from sticking to cell walls. It also speeds up the rate at which mucus is cleared from the respiratory tract.'
We recommend: Healthspan's Kaloba Pelargonium Cough & Cold Relief - Healthspan | £9.95
How to prevent a sore throat
Being healthier in the first place will put you at a much lower risk of catching a virus that will cause a sore throat. Here are three ways to prime your body:
- Take vitamin D. 'This plays an important role in defending your body against infection, and helps maintain the barrier function of your skin and mucosal surfaces such as the throat,' says Claire. 'It also stimulates the cellular immune response and activates the body’s defence mechanisms to destroy bacteria and viruses.' Take 10mcg daily, especially during the colder months. Boots Immune Defence tablets (£6.50 for a month's supply) contains vitamin D plus a range of micronutrients known to support the immune system.
- Eat a diet rich in polyphenols. Found in apples, berries, cocoa, green tea, leafy greens, red wine and onions, polyphenols are active compounds in food that support the immune system. Claire says: 'Current evidence strongly suggests that polyphenols contribute to the prevention of several immune diseases. For example, a polyphenol-rich diet has shown to modulate mucosal immune responses.'
- Pop a probiotic. You have probably heard about the gut-brain axis. Increasing evidence that shows that a happy gut = a happy, healthy body and mind. 'Approximately 70% of our immune cells are located in the gut and our gut bacteria play an essential role in supporting our immune system,' explains Claire. 'We can help assist our resident gut bacteria by taking a multi-strain live bacteria supplement, such as Bio-Kult Boosted (£24.99 for 30 tablets, Holland & Barrett) for both digestion and immune support.'
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Debra Waters is an experienced online editor and parenting writer. She also has a strong background on health, wellbeing, beauty, and food. She currently writes for Goodto and Woman&Home, and print publications Woman, Woman’s Own, and Woman’s Weekly. Debra has written for What to Expect, Everyday Health, and Time Out. In addition, she has had articles published in The Telegraph and The Big Issue.
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