Suffering from a dry, achy throat? You're not alone. Sore throat is one of the most common ailments Americans experience each year, especially when the seasons are changing. In fact, shifts in barometric pressure and an uptick in seasonal allergens can irritate the throat and weaken the immune system, causing sore throats.
The common cold is also a frequent sore throat culprit; these occur most frequently in the spring and fall but can actually strike any time of year. The common cold is a viral infection that should resolve itself in a few days, but there are plenty of natural remedies to aid in relief and recovery. Other sore throats may be caused by a more serious bacterial infection, such as strep throat, which can require antibiotics, so you should always check with your doctor if the pain is severe or lasts more than a few days.
No matter the cause, if you are on a mission to soothe a sore throat and get back on the mend, try these natural remedies and tips:
1. Harness the superpowers of honey.
Honey is a sore throat go-to for a reason. The sweet stuff feels (and tastes) great on a scratchy throat, plus it has major inflammation-fighting power. Honey has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to heal wounds, enhance energy, and ward off colds. Its antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant properties make it the perfect cure-all. Here’s a breakdown of why you should drizzle honey on toast, in your tea, or eat a big spoonful at the first sign of a sore throat.
Whether your sore throat is due to a bacterial infection or a viral one, honey1 is sure to help you heal. The antimicrobial properties of honey can help ward off viral infections and stop the spread of illness, while the low water content and pH of honey are believed to inhibit bacterial growth. Additionally, a compound in honey, glucose oxidase, has been found to produce hydrogen peroxide, a strong antibacterial agent. For an extra medicinal punch, try Manuka honey. Research has shown2 that this type of honey has a stronger antibacterial capacity than other commercially available honeys.
The pain you feel when you have a sore throat is due to an inflammatory response to allergens, bacterial or viral agents, or environmental irritants. When the body detects these foreign agents, it jumps into action producing antibodies in the lymph nodes and sending them to the infected site, causing the throat tissue and surrounding glands to swell. Anti-inflammatory properties in honey can help reduce this swelling and relieve the ache.
If your sore throat is coupled with a cough, you might want to try a little honey before bed. One study found3 that honey was able to relieve nighttime cough and cold symptoms as effectively as an over-the-counter cough suppressant. Added benefit: Participants reported improved sleep quality, which can boost the immune system and speed up recovery time: win-win!
2. Gargle salt water.
A salt-water gargle might seem simple, but science says it can do wonders for your sore throat. Studies have found4 that gargling a mix of warm water and salt can help thin and loosen mucus buildup, clearing the way for a pain-free throat. The Mayo Clinic suggests combining ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt with 4 to 8 ounces of water. Gargle a couple of times a day to maximize the soothing benefits.
3. Sip on bone broth.
This trendy take on your mom's classic sick-day chicken noodle soup provides more than just gut-healing benefits. Bone broth offers a boost to your immune system, which can help you combat a cold. Some believe that inhaling the water vapors from warm liquids and soups are to credit for their throat-soothing capabilities, but one study found5 that sipping chicken soup through the straw of a covered container still provided significant nasal-mucus-clearing improvements. The same improvements were not seen when warm water was sipped through a straw, suggesting that bone-broth-based soups may offer additional benefits beyond their warm temperature.
4. Take a vitamin C supplement.
Vitamin C is known for its immune-boosting powers, but snacking on oranges may not be enough to ward off your sore throat. Studies have shown6 that megadoses of 1,000 mg (the equivalent of approximately 20 oranges) can decrease the severity and duration of the common cold. So in this case, popping a supplement might serve you better than relying on whole foods for your vitamin C fix.
5. Drink tea.
Curling up with a warm mug of tea isn't just soul-soothing, it's throat-soothing too. Sipping on warm liquids will keep you hydrated and moisten the affected area, aiding in relief. Additionally, research has found7 that herbal teas offer a short-term demulcent effect, providing further relief from inflammation and irritation. Another reason to start brewing tea ASAP: Herbal teas are chock-full of antioxidants that can help strengthen the immune system. Some teas traditionally used to treat sore throats include licorice, marshmallow root, chamomile, and slippery elm. Pair your tea with honey for a one-two punch.
6. Soak in a warm bath.
There is nothing like a cold to remind you to slow down and take some time for self-care. Soaking in a warm bath can help you de-stress, which may in turn boost your cold-fighting abilities because stress can be a major drain on the immune system. Also, the steam from the warm water will help loosen mucus, clear airways, and moisten the throat. What are you waiting for? It's time to take your bath to the next level.
7. Try zinc lozenges.
At the first sign of a cold, turn to zinc. Studies have shown that early supplementation with zinc can help heal a cold faster. This natural mineral can be found in many forms, but it may be most effective in syrup or lozenge form because those allow it to maintain contact with the affected area for longer. Also, lozenges stimulate saliva production, which keeps the area moist for an added soothing effect.
8. Sip on some golden milk.
It turns out the same ingredient that gives this hip drink its unique golden color may also help you ward off a cold. Curcumin, one of the compounds found in turmeric, has been shown8 to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties that can help fight infections. Try adding some black pepper to your latte to boost the absorption and bioavailability of the turmeric for an even stronger effect.
9. Suck on garlic.
Yup, you read that right—garlic breath is good for repelling more than just vampires, it may just help you fend off a cold. Garlic has been heralded for its healing properties for centuries, and now there's some science to back it up. Research has found that garlic9 has strong antimicrobial and antiviral properties, perfect for bolstering the immune system. Although there are limited studies on the specific use of garlic for the treatment and prevention of sore throats, one study found that participants who took a garlic supplement for 12 weeks reported fewer incidences of the common cold and shorter duration when illness was reported. If you are desperate to kick your sore throat, it might be worth the garlic breath to give this one a try.
10. Try echinacea and sage spray.
For immediate relief, spraying a mix of echinacea and sage extract on your throat may offer a temporary numbing effect to the area. In one study10 echinacea and sage spray was found to be as effective as an over-the-counter anesthetic spray for throat soothing. Echinacea11 is also known for its antibacterial properties, which may help boost the immune system.
11. Supplement with oregano oil.
You probably have oregano in your spice cabinet, but you might want to add it to your medicine cabinet as well. Oregano oil is known for its high antioxidant levels and antimicrobial properties, which can aid in the fight against viral infections like the common cold. If a bacterial infection, like strep throat, is causing your pain, you may be in luck too. Oregano oil has been found to have strong antibacterial properties12 that may be as effective as a round of antibiotics, without all the gut microbiome damage. Just be sure to consult with your doctor if you think you may have a bacterial infection.
12. Diffuse with eucalyptus oil.
Breathe a sigh of relief—the fresh scent of eucalyptus is here to help. Eucalyptus13 has been shown to loosen mucus in the throat, which will help you decongest and clear your airways. This essential oil also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties to help you fight off your cold. Try adding a couple of drops of eucalyptus to an oil diffuser to breathe in its healing powers.
13. Avoid a sore throat altogether.
Now that you've conquered your cold, it's time to focus on raising your defenses so you don't catch another one anytime soon. A healthy lifestyle full of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, plenty of liquids, and restful sleep is the best way to protect yourself from the common cold, but here are a few more ways to boost your immune system and ward off future illnesses. The CDC suggests14 washing your hands frequently with warm soapy water, especially during peak cold and flu season, to stop the spread of germs.
You can also lend your immune system a helping hand by upping your supplement game. Creating a supplement routine that includes oregano oil, vitamin D, and a multivitamin will support your system and keep you in tiptop shape. And don't forget to take time for self-care. Whether it's reading a book, going for a walk, or putting on a face mask, taking time to focus on you can help reduce stress and keep your immune system strong.
Want to learn more about how to boost your immune system naturally? See what this immunologist recommends her clients do every day.
Darcy McDonough, M.S., is the Senior Manager, SEO & Content Strategy at mindbodygreen. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She has previously worked in nutrition communications for Joy Bauer, the nutrition and health expert for NBC’s TODAY Show.
McDonough has developed & lead nutrition education programming in schools. She’s covered a wide range of topics as a health & nutrition reporter from the rise in the use of psychedelics for depression to the frustrating trend in shorter doctors' appointments and the connection between diet and disease.