In general, a viral infection usually comes with other symptoms, like muscle aches and fatigue, along with your sore throat, says Chester Griffiths MD, an otolaryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. With a bacterial infection, on the other hand, the pain is usually more focused on your throat and the soreness tends to be pretty severe, Dr. Griffiths says. You may also have intense pain when you swallow, along with a high fever.
Salt water is a great home remedy for sore throat, as it can reduce swelling and calm inflammation and irritation. It may also help draw infections or irritants to the surface of your throat, where your body is better able to deal with them. Dissolve 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water and gargle every hour or two, advises Mia Finkelston, MD, a Maryland-based family physician who also treats patients via LiveHealth Online.
This helps in a few ways. When you lay flat on your back, it increases pressure on your neck and can exacerbate symptoms in your throat, Dr. Griffiths says. “Propping yourself up helps relieve the pressure and can make you feel better,” he says. If you’re struggling with acid reflux, elevating your head also can work with gravity to help keep your stomach acids where they belong—in your stomach.
Airborne allergies, such as pollen, indoor molds, or dust mites, can cause chronic low-grade throat inflammation. “Allergies are a very common cause of postnasal drip which can lead to throat pain,” Dr. Abramowitz says. To start, try taking a non-drowsy over-the-counter allergy medication containing cetirizine hydrochloride, such as Zyrtec or Claritin. Even if that seems to help, “it’s a good idea to get your allergies checked so you know what you’re dealing with,” Dr. Abramowitz says.
Eastern and Western medicine come from two very different schools of thought. When used together, they can offer even more benefits. In "The New Chinese Medicine Handbook," Dr. Misha Ruth Cohen, a doctor of Chinese medicine and licensed acupuncturist, outlines how Chinese medicine can be used alongside modern medicine to treat a variety of conditions. Learn how to combine Chinese dietary guidelines with Western ones. Dr. Cohen also outlines how to practice healing therapies, like acupuncture, qi gong, and Chinese herbal therapy.
Hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, prevent dehydration, and soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat. If you're so congested that you can't sleep at night, try a hot toddy, an age-old remedy. Make a cup of hot herbal tea. Add one teaspoon of honey and one small shot (about 1 ounce) of whiskey or bourbon. Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol will inflame the membranes and make you feel worse.
Before bedtime, eat a handful of cherries (or drink tart cherry juice), which scientists discovered are jam-packed with melatonin, the same hormone created by your body to regulate sleep patterns. Then steep yourself in a hot bath to relax your muscles and your mind. In bed, rest your head on a lavender-filled pillow—the fragrance induces sleepiness. (Bonus: Cherries can help prevent gout attacks.)
If part of the reason you’re breathing through your mouth is because your nose is clogged, use an over-the-counter medicated decongestant nasal spray or drops to open up airways, such as Afrin or Vicks. “Nasal decongestants work well at eliminating congestion in your nose and drying mucus out,” Dr. Abramowitz says. “This can help you feel better and also decrease postnasal drip.”
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You put a salt and warm water mixture in something that looks like a little teapot. Then pour it through one nostril and let it drain out the other. You have to practice a little, but once you get the hang of it, it can ease allergy or cold symptoms and may even help you get rid of a cold quicker. Just make sure you use distilled or cooled boiled water and keep your neti pot clean.