1. Saltwater gargle.
Several studies have found that gargling several times a day with warm salt water can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria.
Doctors generally recommend dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water. If the salty taste is too unpleasant for you, try adding a small amount of honey to sweeten the mixture slightly. (Just remember to spit the water out after gargling, rather than swallowing!)
2. Lozenges and sprays
Sucking on cough drops stimulates saliva production, which can help keep your throat moist. But many varieties are no more effective than hard candies, Dr. Linder says. For an added benefit, choose brands with a cooling or numbing ingredient, like menthol or
Over-the-counter sprays like Chloraseptic produce an effect similar to cooling lozenges. They won’t cure your sore throat or help you fight off the underlying cold, but they may help dull the pain temporarily.
Chloraseptic’s active ingredient, phenol, is a local antiseptic that also has antibacterial properties, Dr. Linder says.
3. Cough syrup
Even if you don’t have a cough (yet), over-the-counter cough syrups can help ease soreness. Like drops and sprays, they coat the throat and provide temporary pain relief.
If you’re headed to work, be sure to choose a non-drowsy formula. But if you’re having trouble sleeping due to a sore throat, a nighttime formula like NyQuil (which contains a pain reliever and an antihistamine) or Robitussin AC (guaifenesin and codeine) can relieve pain and help you get some shuteye.
“Staying hydrated is very important, especially when you’re sick and your throat is irritated or inflamed,” Dr. Linder says. “You should be drinking enough fluid so that your urine is light yellow or clear. This keeps your mucous membranes moist and better able to combat bacteria and irritants like allergens, and makes your body better able to fight back against other cold symptoms.”
What you drink is up to you, Linder adds. Water always works (ice cubes, too!), but you can also change it up with something slightly sugary, like a watered-down fruit juice, or something salty, like chicken broth.
Every once and a while—about 10% of the time in adults—a sore throat will be caused by a bacterial infection such as Streptococcus pyogenes. If, and only if, you test positive for strep throat or another bacterial infection, your doctor should prescribe an antibiotic. (Taking antibiotics for a sore throat caused by a virus will not be effective.) Always take the full course of medicine, even if you feel better after a few days.
It may not be the quickest solution, but getting some rest is probably the best thing you can do to battle the infection that caused your sore throat in the first place, Dr. Linder says.
“The vast majority of sore throats are caused by cold viruses, and we know that there’s very little we can do to cure a cold once we’ve got it,” he says.
“Making sure your body is well rested will at least help it fight off the virus so you can get better sooner.”