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.
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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.