Sore throat soothers

Struggling with the sting of a sore throat probably won’t keep you from your daily activities. But sore throat pain is hard to ignore, and it’s something you just want to get rid of — fast. A sore throat may also signal a condition that needs your doctor’s attention. Here’s what you need to know about that pain and how to soothe it.

Sore throat triggers

Most sore throats are caused by non-life-threatening conditions or certain behaviors.

Examples include colds, sinus infections, or allergies that lead to excess mucus production and drainage down the throat (postnasal drip); a dry throat from sleeping with your mouth open, not drinking enough water, or drinking alcohol (which can dehydrate you); acid reflux (stomach acid that backs up into the throat); bacterial infections, such as strep throat (caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus) or tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils); smoking; singing or talking loudly for a long time; or coughing.

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Some of those causes — such as a dry throat — may result in temporary irritation. Others may inflame your nerves. “There is a network of nerves that provide sensation to your throat. These nerves can be irritated by inflammation, chemicals, or hot or cold foods,” explains Dr. Matthew R. Naunheim, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Harvard-affiliated Mass Eye and Ear.

A more serious signal

A sore throat also is a possible symptom of COVID-19. “Mild cases of COVID can feel just like a common cold. I advise my patients with a sore throat and other symptoms — like fevers, cough, shortness of breath, or loss of taste and smell — to get tested. But don’t panic; most sore throats aren’t caused by COVID,” Dr. Naunheim says.

When should you call the doctor? “Call if you’re having a hard time swallowing, you’re short of breath, you have a high fever, or you cough up blood,” Dr. Naunheim says. “Any symptom that persists more than two weeks — like hoarseness or a lump in the neck — are important reasons to see your doctor. In rare cases, a sore throat can be a symptom of throat cancer.”

Sore throat soothers

Treating the cause of your sore throat is the best way to relieve irritation or pain. “For instance, if you have a strep infection, antibiotics are helpful,” Dr. Naunheim says. And for immediate relief, try the following:

Hydration. “Staying hydrated is a good place to start, especially if your throat is dry. Drink plenty of fluids to keep your cells healthy, moisturize your throat, flush out toxins, and thin mucus secretions that may be irritating your throat,” Dr. Naunheim says.

Medication. Try an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Anesthetics. Using a spray or lozenge that contains the oral anesthetic phenol can numb the throat. But get your doctor’s okay before using these products if you have swallowing difficulties.

Also check with your doctor if you want to use a topical anesthetic called benzocaine, which is associated with a rare but dangerous blood condition called methemoglobinemia. No matter which product you use, make sure you follow dosage instructions carefully.

Cough drops. Cough drops help soothe a sore throat by increasing saliva production. “I recommend the sugar-free variety, to reduce the risk of cavities. Typically, I have found that menthol drops tend to be more irritating than helpful,” Dr. Naunheim notes.

Honey. Honey has antimicrobial properties, and some evidence suggests it’s associated with shortening the duration of upper respiratory infections and sore throats. “A lot of people swear by honey. For many people, it helps to suppress coughing,” Dr. Naunheim says. “Infants should not be given honey. And people with the need for strict sugar control — such as those with diabetes — should be cautious.”

Heat therapy. Drinking warm beverages or soups or gargling with warm salt water can soothe the throat. “We think that warm — but not hot or scalding — fluids like tea bring more blood flow to the mucous membranes in the throat, which makes the throat feel less dry,” Dr. Naunheim says.

Steam. Using a humidifier helps break up mucus and fight a dry throat.

Sore throat prevention

Keep your guard up to avoid harmful germs and viruses. “Handwashing is important and can greatly reduce your likelihood of getting sick. Using a face mask also protects you,” Dr. Naunheim says. “And practice good throat hygiene. Eat a healthy diet; drink plenty of water; avoid smoke, alcohol, and irritants; and try not to strain your voice.”

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” – James 1:2-3

 “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:6

 “Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.”- Proverbs 16:3

 “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” Luke 12:24 – Luke 12:24

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