Tired of that scratchy, burning sensation in the back of your throat? Feel like your body is fighting off an infection? Afraid you are coming down with something? In this post I will share three simple, soothing remedies for sore throats, that work for my family.
Throughout the winter, sore throats become a common plague. In the middle of the dreaded “cold and flu season,” sore throats may indicate something severe, like flu or strep. Or a sore throat could be a symptom of the common cold, or even result from sinus drainage or allergies. Regardless of the cause, we don’t have to suffer through every sore throat that comes our way.
Note: I am not a trained medical professional, and this blog post is NOT intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. I am only sharing what we find helpful. I cannot promise that you will experience the same results as we do—but it’s worth a try, right?
Here are three simple ways to soothe sore throats, and possibly even stave off a full-blown cold.
Hot Salt Water Gargle
I wake up with a scratchy sensation, or maybe a burning pain, in the back of my throat. Oh, no, am I getting sick? Perhaps it’s just allergies, or maybe I ate too much dairy or sugar yesterday. A drink of water doesn’t help. How am I going to get through the day?
When I wake up with this common discomfort, my first stop is to gargle with hot salt water.
Benefits of Salt Water Gargle
+ Soothes irritation
+ Removes and/or kills some bacteria from throat
+ May prevent upper respiratory infections
What I Do
Sometimes I run the faucet until the tap water is hot enough to dissolve salt. I dump in some salt, then swirl or stir it in the hot water until it is dissolved. (The recommended dose is ¼ to ½ teaspoon per cup, but I don’t find that amount effective. I prefer a little more.) Other times I boil water in our electric teapot, stir salt into a half cup until it is dissolved, and then add enough cold water to drop it to a safe temperature.
Then I head to the bathroom for my little sore-throat-morning ritual. I gargle the entire cup of hot salt water, one mouthful at a time, spitting each mouthful into the sink until the cup is empty.
Results I See
This brings instant—if not total—relief.
Often, if my throat was merely irritated from drainage, I will be fine the rest of the day. If I have a full-blown sore throat, the salt water gargle doesn’t completely rid me of symptoms, but it does soothe my throat enough to get through the day. (This was especially crucial when I was teaching and using my voice all day).
Sometimes the salt water works so fast it draws out additional phlegm shortly after gargling, which I can then expel from my throat and feel even better.
A salt water gargle can be repeated as many times as needed throughout the day. If I am still experiencing discomfort by evening, I also gargle before bed.
Why It Works
The hot salt water gargle offers relief from physical discomfort in two ways. First and most obvious is the hot water. Warmth is often soothing—which is why drinking hot tea or broth feels good when we’re sick.
Salt’s physical properties also help. Citing the Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies in her article, Katie Morton states, “The addition of salt to a glass of warm water used as a gargle creates an osmosis effect where the concentration of salt draws fluids from your mouth and throat tissues to relieve a painful infection. It also breaks up thick mucus, which can remove irritants like allergens, bacteria and fungi from the throat.”
Other sources agree. On WebMD, Chris C. Anderson quotes Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer as saying “You’re creating a high-salt barrier and you’re pulling out a lot of fluids from the tissues in the throat area, so you’re washing the virus out.” In Medical News Today, Jenna Fletcher states that salt-water solutions may kill some bacteria. She also mentions a study suggesting that gargling with salt water may even prevent upper respiratory infections.
Sprigs’ Echinacea + Throat Syrup
If the hot salt water gargle doesn’t completely cut my discomfort, and especially if I have that feeling that I’m coming down with something, I will use Sprigs’ Throat and Tonsil gargle (now called Echinacea + Throat Syrup).
My mother gave a bottle of this syrup a couple years ago for Christmas, and we have used it ever since. The syrup’s combination of Echinacea, garlic, habanero, peppermint, and fig sounds disgusting, but it actually doesn’t taste as bad as it sounds. Even our 5-year-old will ask for it when she’s complaining about her throat hurting.
In fact, just this morning when I mixed up a glass for the photo, she asked to have it when I was done. She isn’t even sick. “It’s kind of yummy,” she told me.
Benefits of Echinacea + Throat Syrup
+ Palatable enough for children
+ Ingredients may boost immune system, prevent colds, and/or relieve symptoms
What I Do
The syrup comes in a bottle with instructions to use two droppers. (My older bottle said 1-2 droppers, so usually just use one.) I add it to a cup of cold or room temperature water and stir it until well mixed.
Unlike hot salt water, this gargle is meant to be swallowed. First I coat my throat and tonsils with the mixture while gargling, then swallow it so the ingredients can continue working in my body.
Results I See
The syrup might give some immediate relief, but I use it more as a preventative measure. Like with the hot salt water gargle, I often find my sore throat or congestion goes away, or at least stays minimal. If I take this Echinacea + Throat Syrup when I think I am coming down with something, I often end up not getting sick.
When our child takes this, she doesn’t complain of a sore throat for more than a day or two.
Why It Works
While shrouded in controversy, Echinacea is still shown to have some benefit in boosting the immune system. Some, though not all, studies have shown that Echinacea has some ability to prevent the common cold.
Garlic, discussed in the next section, has multiple health properties that may also help to prevent the common cold.
Peppermint oil, in this 2013 study, was found to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. In fact, the authors wrote, “It has antiseptic and anti-spasmodic effect; in reducing mucus and relieving coughs, sinusitis, throat infections, colds, flu, asthma and bronchitis.”
A Clove of Fresh Garlic
I hope you like garlic.
We love garlic and use it in nearly all our cooking. However, even for those who love cooking with it, fresh garlic is still overpowering, and most people fear garlic breath.
But which is worse—garlic breath for one night or a sore throat that lasts for days?
My husband and I choose the garlic.
When I wake up with a sore throat and need to nip it in the bud, I choose the hot salt water gargle. I usually reserve garlic for the end of the day when I’m done being around people other than my family.
Garlic is a must if someone else in our house is sick, or we think we might be coming down with a cold or something else. It works better as a preventative measure, or during early onset of sickness. After we’re sick, garlic doesn’t make as noticeable of a difference.
Benefits of Garlic
+ Fairly easy
+ Has anti-bacterial properties
+ May prevent common cold
What We Do
Our regimen is one clove of garlic a day, or two if we’re really battling something big. My husband and I both use garlic but take it in very different ways.
Matt peels a whole clove, chews it up and swallows it, plain, and chases it with food. I can’t do that—plain garlic is so strong it burns my tongue and throat; it also hurts my stomach if I take it without food.
So I take it WITH food. I usually find some leftovers in the refrigerator, scoop out a few spoonfuls, and mix in a MINCED clove of fresh garlic. That makes it more palatable for me.
The one way we both like it is garlic toast. For a bedtime snack, we will often make hot, buttered toast, and then use a garlic press to crush the garlic, and spread it over the toast.
Results I See
When I take a clove of garlic before bed, the burn of the garlic somewhat soothes the pain in my throat, and I usually feel better by morning. If I’m not completely better, at least I feel much improved. If the sore throat or other infection is persistent, I continue taking garlic every evening until I am better. If I am really fighting something, I will also take garlic with my food during the day, if I plan to be home all day.
This persistent use of garlic, in my experience, seems to ward off full-blown colds if I start it soon enough. (If I’m already sick, I don’t see such drastic results.) But as a preventative measure or to fight an early infection, it seems to chase away the sickness and discomfort.
Not convinced that garlic is worth it? Consider what my husband Matt shares from his personal experience.
Matt’s Take on Garlic
Nearly 11 years ago, I [Matt] was diagnosed with 3 cancers, the scariest being leukemia (AML). Since the doctors didn’t know how bad my type of AML was, they opted for me to undergo a bone-marrow transplant. After I was released from the hospital, I had very little immune system and was basically like a baby, having to start all of my immunities over again. They told me that, for the next year, I would be on a pretty powerful antibiotic, Azithromycin, to help with my fragile immune system.
Six months later, while it was the middle of winter, I started getting sinus infections (one of the perks of living in the Mid-Ohio Valley!). I was thinking, “Sheesh! I’m already on a pretty potent antibiotic, what else can they give me!?” The doctors probably had other antibiotics they could have given me, but I really didn’t want to go there if I didn’t have to.
About this time I recalled a conversation I had with a nutritionist nearly a year before. The nutritionist said every time he feels a cold coming on he would take a couple cloves of garlic. Raw garlic was so burny, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but I figured it would be better for my health than popping more pills. (I had so many pills that year that I had to have an organizer for all of them. You know, like one of those morning, noon, and night ones that your 90-year-old grandmother has. Ridiculous! One less pill seemed appealing to me.)
The first night I took two cloves and every night thereafter I took one clove. I continued this until a day or two after the symptoms stopped. I was surprised to find that my recovery time was as good, and sometimes better, than when I took the typical over-the-counter drugs.
Some of the ways I have found to make garlic more palatable are mincing it onto butter bread or mincing it into soups or other dishes. Yogurt or cottage cheese will hide the burniness well, but it’s not the best taste sensation.
While garlic does not promote intimacy with your spouse or a vibrant social life, it is great for your immune system!Matthew Bogard
Why It Works
An article published by Cleveland Clinic cites a study finding that the sulfur compounds in garlic have anti-inflammatory properties. The article “Garlic: A Review of Potential Therapeutic Effects” describes the anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-protozoal properties of garlic, as well. According to this same article, garlic also seems to have anti-viral properties, though they have not been studied as much.
Yet some still claim its effectiveness. For example, a study published in American Family Physician stated, “Prophylactic use of garlic may decrease the frequency of colds in adults, but has no effect on duration of symptoms.” Another study found that garlic may prevent the common cold, but that one small study was not enough to draw a definite conclusion.
There is not as much research proving the effectiveness of garlic as I expected. Still, I think there is enough anecdotal evidence that garlic does work to make it worth trying.
If you consume a lot of garlic, whether for medicinal or culinary purposes, you may want to consider growing your own. Happy DIY Home has an informative article by Karen Cumberledge about How to Store Garlic, which also addresses growing and harvesting it, as well.
As I said before, I share these soothing remedies for sore throats because they work in our house. I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, so I can’t promise the same results for you. These simple remedies often stave off colds that we feel coming on, but they don’t 100% prevent sickness in our household. At the bare minimum, however, gargling with hot salt water, using Sprigs’ Echinacea + Throat Syrup, and taking a fresh clove of garlic DO bring relief from the pain of a sore throat. My hope is that these ideas will help you and your household stay healthy and happy as well.
Note: This post, originally published in February 2020, has been updated to include additional resources for readers.