Dry air, colds, flu, screaming about the lousy weather—all of it can all give you a scratchy throat this time of year. But there's no need to grab that bottle of neon-colored, tastes-like-Drano throat spray. "Natural cures really are good remedies for sore throats," says Benjamin Asher, MD, PC, a member of the Committee on Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and an expert on integrative medicine.
Gargling with salt water or other solutions helps cut down on sore throats caused by irritants like dry air or allergies. In an Indian study of patients with postoperative tracheal tubes, gargling with a mixture of one teaspoon of licorice in eight ounces of water led to less-severe sore throats than those experienced by patients who gargled with ordinary water. The licorice mixture can be used as either a drink or as a gargle. (You can find licorice syrups or licorice root powders at stores that sell natural remedies, but make sure they contain real licorice.) And Dr. Asher adds that gargling with Bragg's Organic Apple Cider Vinegar is an effective treatment as well. "It seems to be cleansing," he says, "and it's not as harsh as other forms of vinegar."
Mix the ingredients together and infuse in 2 cups of boiling water. Stir in honey (which is soothing and sweet). Sip the tea throughout the day until your throat feels better.
4. Prevent a relapse
Prevention is the best medicine for sore throats caused by irritation or viral infections, says Dr. Asher. For instance, if you notice a sore throat in the morning, it could be caused by dryness from breathing through your mouth in the night, or it could be triggered by acid reflux while you're sleeping. A humidifier can rectify the dry air, and arranging your bed or pillows so that your head is slightly elevated can prevent sore throats due to reflux. "If you change around your environment, you'll be less susceptible to sore throats," he notes.
Alternatively, you can take a few tested-and-true cold prevention products sold at natural food stores. "Zinc does nothing for colds," Dr. Asher says, but he does like a productd called Umcka, derived from an African herb called Pelargonium sidoides. The latter has also been found effective at preventing sinusitis and bronchitis. "In my own practice, I've found it's pretty amazing," he says.
Whatever you do, don't ignore a sore throat that lasts longer than a week, which could be a sign of a serious problem. "If you have severe pain that leads to difficulty swallowing, go see a doctor," Dr. Asher says, and if you experience localized pain—soreness on one side of your throat and not another, for instance—it's time to seek medical advice. Also, "any smoker with a persistent sore throat has got to see a doctor," he advises.
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